UN raises concern over Macedonia’s migrant policy

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein says his staff have found 180 migrants, including 80 children, who have been 'living in limbo' in two transit centres in Macedonia since March.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Picture shows refugees waiting to be allowed by the Macedonian police to cross the border from Greece to Macedonia, Aug. 21, 2016.

The UN rights chief on Friday raised deep concerns over Macedonia’s "systematic policy" of detaining and expelling migrants, slamming the detention of migrant children in particular.  

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein said in a statement that his staff have found 180 migrants including 80 children "who have been living in limbo since March in two transit centres."

"There had been no assessment of the necessity or proportionality of their de facto detention. This is simply unacceptable, in particular when it comes to children."

Zeid was referring to the migrants stuck at the Tabanovce centre, near the border with Serbia in the north, and the Gevgelija centre near the Greek border. They had set foot on Macedonian soil before the country closed its borders on March 8.

Archive photo shows refugees walking past a banner during a protest demanding the opening of the border between Greece and Macedonia, in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Greece, March 22, 2016. (AP Archive)

Macedonia lies on the Balkan route used by hundreds of thousands refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa to reach northern Europe.

The route was effectively shut down in March.

However, Zeid said the closing of borders throughout the region had boosted the presence of "abusive smuggling and trafficking industries, leaving migrants in a deplorably vulnerable situation."

He also warned that Macedonia is pushing migrants back to neighbouring countries, and makes "collective and arbitrary expulsions."

"I urge the government to put an end to these practices, which are in breach of international law," he said.

According to the UN, some 600 asylum requests were filed in Macedonia since last year, but only five people have received refugee status.