Global Independent Analytics

Hundreds of refugees make defiant journey on foot into Macedonia

Hundreds of migrants have crossed from Greece into Macedonia after finding a way through the border fence

Helena Smith for Guardian reports: refugees have walked en masse into Macedonia in defiance of European attempts to seal the continent’s southern borders to people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East.

More than 12,000 people who have stranded Greek-Macedonian border for weeks are now rushing through the river to enter the country. In order to pass over the river, migrants have formed human chains to pass babies and toddlers to the other side.

Smith provides a quote: “It was a very difficult situation. There was a very big problem with the water, but everyone helped each other, and they crossed all together,” said Konstantinos Tsakalidis, a freelance photographer who walked with the marchers and who spoke to the Guardian by phone. “They were happy because they crossed the river, the border, and they believed that now they were free.”  However, the migrants did not succeed in getting past the border as they were stopped by Macedonian police squads only one and a half miles inside Macedonia.

Such scenes only highlight more the EU’s failure to stop irregular immigration to Europe: last year more than 500,000 people used this way. Besides, large amounts of immigrants were transformed by specially commissioned trains from Balkan countries to Germany, literally forming a humanitarian corridor.

This corridor was shut Monday when the EU and its Balkan neighbors shut their borders which resulted in thousands of refugees, who have arrived from Turkey, trapped in Greece. The move was designed to anticipate proposed EU-Turkey deal which is designed to return all asylum seekers to Turkey.

However, migration specialists have since warned that fences and borders would not stop migration but only would make the situation worse for those who do not have a home to return to while others will find new ways to smuggle into Europe, just as they have done before the Balkan corridor was created.

“A representative of Médecins Sans Frontières, the medical aid group that has been present at the Greece-Macedonian border since last spring, said he had noticed an increase in irregular crossings and smuggling activity over the last week – and expected it to increase in the days and weeks ahead.

Jan van ’t Land, deputy head of mission for MSF in Greece, said: “It’s easy to see. There are a few unofficial pick-up points and I pass them every day. From there, the smugglers will bring you over the border, and if you pay a couple of thousand they promise to take you to Germany. For single young men, this is an option if you have the money.”

He added: “For now it still seems to be [only at] the Macedonian border, but I would expect it to shift to Bulgaria. [Recently] I just walked into Bulgaria and then out without realising – so if I can do it then anyone can. But it doesn’t seem to be too popular yet,” cites Smith.

The history shows that the attempts to stem the immigrant flow by closing borders have been at least unsuccessful with the refugees trying their luck elsewhere: closed Spanish borders resulted in increased flow of Mediterranean crossings from Libya; Turkey’s closure of land borders was followed by the unprecedented flow of people to the Aegean islands in 2015.

“Several thousand refugees are still stuck in a disease-ridden camp on the Greek side of the border, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency said. “We have been trying to convince people that the best way out is to apply for asylum and opt for the EU relocation scheme,” said Babar Baloch, the UNHCR spokesman at the camp.

“We estimate that of the 12,000 here, around 4,000 are children. The camp is just not a place that is fit for humans,” he told the Guardian. “People are tired, they are exhausted, their patience is running out. And when legal pathways are blocked, they are forced to give themselves up to traffickers and smugglers.”

The situation may yet worsen, with 4,000 people arriving in Greece over the weekend despite the new border restrictions, the UN said,” assumes Smith.

Stefan Paraber for GIA

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