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Macedonia urged to take in stranded Afghan refugees

Afghan refugee woman

Afghan refugees have been denied passage into Macedonia and Serbia [Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters]

Serbian and Macedonian moves to block passage of Afghans have resulted in a build-up of refugees in Greece

Greece has said it is taking action to persuade Macedonia to take in Afghan refugees as thousands remain stranded at the border and Athens’ main port.

“We have begun diplomatic moves … we believe the problem will be resolved” Yiannis Mouzalas the junior interior minister for migration told parliamentary television on Monday.

He said in another interview that Athens was seeking to exert pressure at the “European and bilateral level” without specifying what steps it was planning.

About 5000 refugees are stuck at the border with Macedonia after the neighbouring non-EU state on Sunday refused to allow passage for Afghans police said.

Over 400 Afghans staged a sit-down protest in no-man’s land holding makeshift signs that read: “We can’t go back” and “Why racism?”

Dozens of Afghan children held other signs reading “Help us cross border”.

‘Die here or go on’

“We cannot go back. We will either die here or go on” said 20-year-old Mohamed Asif.

“We have paid so much money to get this far. Germany said it would accept refugees. What has changed now?”

Another 3000 people were blocked in Athens after landing at the port of Piraeus from the Aegean islands a government source said adding that officials were scrambling to find room for them.

“We do not expect a [diplomatic] solution today” the source told AFP adding: “We will accommodate the Afghans while trying to prevent overcrowding at any of the facilities available.”

Officials said they would open a newly completed relocation camp near Piraeus to handle the emergency.

The arrival last year of more than one million refugees and migrants in Europe many fleeing war poverty and persecution has caused a chain reaction of border clampdowns among several European Union states.

As the main gateway into the EU Greece has been struggling to cope with the new arrivals and the country fears new restrictions by other EU member states will leave tens of thousands of people stranded on its territory.

Despite strong objections from the EU Austria on Friday introduced a daily limit on asylum seekers entering and registering in the country triggering fears of a domino effect along the Balkan route.

It was the latest example of unilateral action taken by an EU country to stem the migrant flow as the bloc struggles to cope with the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

Hungary on Monday reported a sharp rise in the numbers of refugees and migrants breaching its southern borders in February the first significant surge since the frontiers were sealed last year.

Around 1500 migrants tried to enter the EU member state illegally from Serbia this month with 500 alone caught between Friday and Sunday police said in a statement.

Serbia Slovenia Austria Croatia and Macedonia signed on Thursday a joint statement announcing new tightened restrictions on refugees and migrants passing through those countries.

Though the statement did not address whether Afghan refugees would be allowed to continue it did note that “longer residence in a safe third country” could be grounds for rejecting asylum seekers citing as an example “Afghan national[s] who for a longer time stayed in Turkey or Iran”.

Serbian borders

Dejana Nedeljkovic Macedonian interior ministry spokesperson said: “Since February 19 Serbia has only accepted those coming from Syria and Iraq.”

On Friday 367 Afghan refugees were blocked from entering Serbia from Macedonia Nedeljkovic told Al Jazeera adding that in contrast Macedonian authorities have “not differentiated between Syrians Iraqis and Afghans”.

Nedeljkovic said that for Macedonia’s part “there are 617 people from Afghanistan in Macedonia who are not allowed to enter Serbia” and are now “at a refugee transit centre” in Macedonia’s Tabanovce.

“We still don’t have an official statement from the Serbian government about why this is the case” she said adding that it was unclear if the entry denials indicated a change in Serbian policy.

According to UN refugee agency UNHCR more than a million refugees and migrants reached European shores by boat last year.

Since the beginning of 2016 more than 101000 people have made the trek across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Of this total at least 27 percent are from Afghanistan according to UNHCR.

Source: Al Jazeera And AFP

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