Stranded refugees protest against Balkan border controls

Stranded refugees on Greek-Macedonian border protest against Balkan border controls by sewing their lips together

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A refugee with his mouth sewn shut in protest sits at the border with Greece near the village of Gevgelija, Macedonia on November 23, 2015

Updated Nov 24, 2015

Seven refugees sewed their lips together with nylon and more than a thousands Iranians, Moroccans and Pakistanis on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia blocked a train line on Monday in protest against a recent decision by some Balkan countries to filter refugees heading towards northern Europe.

On the Greece-Macedonia border, hundreds of refugees protested for a fifth day against the border filtering policy.

The policy includes blocking certain nationalities from crossing towards northern Europe, which has raised human rights concerns. Some rights groups have said that asylum should be based on merit, not on nationality.

"To classify a whole nation as economic migrants is not a principle recognised in international law," said Rados Djurovic, director of the Belgrade-based Asylum Protection Centre.

"We risk violating human rights and asylum law," he told Serbian state television.

Pakistani refugees held posters stating the human rights violations in their country. The seven refugees that sewed their lips were believed to be from Iran, but aid workers at the scene said that it was hard to find out their exact circumstances and motivations.

A group of Bangladeshi refugees wrote slogans on their chests in red paint, reading "Shoot us, we never go back," and "Shoot us or save us."

Refugees from Bangladesh protes at the border with Greece near the village of Gevgelija, Macedonia on November 23, 2015 (Reuters)

Some refugees stranded on the Balkan borders hold hunger strikes, choosing not to eat or speak.

“It’s difficult to communicate with them,” said Gemma Gillie, a representative of Medecins Sans Frontieres, who witnessed the scene at the border on Monday.

“But they’ve been protesting silently and nothing’s happened – so that’s why they’re doing this.”

When Reuters asked a refugee where he wanted to go, the man, a 34-year-old electrical engineer named Hamid, said, "To any free country in the world. I cannot go back. I will be hanged."

Hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of them Syrians fleeing war, made their journey across the Balkan Peninsula having arrived by unsafe boats to Greece from Turkey and are heading to safer and more affluent countries of northern and western Europe, mainly Germany and Sweden.

Macedonia and other Balkan countries tightened criteria for border crossings in the wake of deadly attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, which killed 130 people.

The decision emerged after the two suicide bombers involved in the Paris attacks took the same route, arriving by boat in Greece and then traveling north across the Balkans. Most of the attackers were citizens of France and Belgium.

2,900 people crossed the border into Macedonia in the 24 hours before 6am on Monday, down from more than 6,000 on the previous day.

A stranded refugee keeps warm by an open fire near words written by stranded refugees, near the border between Greece and Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni on November 23, 2015 (Reuters)

Last week, Slovenia declared that it would only accept those fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and others who are deemed as economic refugees would be sent back.

The decisions prompted Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia to apply the same restrictions, leaving large numbers stranded in tents and around camp fires on the Balkan borders in harsh winter conditions.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said he had no intention of stopping refugees who need humanitarian protection.

However, Gruevski said on Sunday that Europe needed to take better border security measures, highlighting one of the assailants in the Paris attacks may have reached France from the Balkans.

“The status quo is untenable and short-term recommendations do nothing to solve the problem. Macedonia knows that the only solution is European-wide expanded cooperation, real-time exchange of information and additional support so that we may ensure appropriate security and humanitarian outcomes for all involved,” Gruevski said.


TRTWorld and agencies