Macedonia has closed its borders to Afghan refugees, which has lead Greece to suggest that the number of displaced people it houses would grow rapidly as more refugees are stranded between the two countries. According to Greek police, the reason that Macedonia has tightened its restrictions on refugees is because Serbia – a nation that sits along the Balkans migration route into the west – has done the same. Macedonian officials now fear that if refugees are granted passage, that they would end up being unable to leave and be stuck in Macedonia.
However, a Serbian official stated that the decision to block refugees from Afghanistan was made by Austria and Slovenia, and that the ruling was not theirs to make. "Serbia does not decide who can pass through its territory without consulting the states up the migrant route," he said. "[Our] borders are open, Serbia has not closed its borders with Macedonia or Bulgaria in any way."
A Macedonian police spokeswoman has also denied there was any new prohibition regarding Afghans, and that the problem was indeed Serbia. The spokeswoman backed her case by reporting that Macedonia had not closed its borders to Afghans because there had been nine people admitted on 21 February, with one being let through after midnight.
Despite this, 1,000 refugees were left waiting at Idomeni, a Greek border camp, while there were more than 4,000 waiting in buses at a petrol station 11 miles away. Around 500 refugees decided to make the journey from the petrol station to the border on foot.
"I can no longer wait," said 17-year-old Ali Nowroz, one of the travellers, who comes from the Afghan city of Jaghori Zeba. "We have spent three nights in the cold. We are hungry. They told me that the borders have been closed to us. However, when I started from Afghanistan I knew borders were open for us. I am going to the Idomeni border crossing to find out and ask why they have closed it."
Greek police prevented Afghan refugees from crossing the border at the Idomeni camp, as well as the petrol station, persuading some to board buses back to Athens, which is 335 miles away.
Only 150 refugees from Iraq and Syria were allowed into Macedonia since the morning on Sunday (21 February), with a mere 310 on the previous day. Macedonia and Czech police have been inspecting documents of the Iraqi and Syrian refugees, only allowing those with passports or ID cards into Macedonia, a change from the previous regulations, which was that Greek police documents were also considered a valid means of identification, as long as the individual had been processed.
"Me and my brother have been waiting for three days here but we cannot cross because we have no passports," said Hadi Dakhil, a 25 year old from the Iraqi city of Shingal. "The Turks confiscated them and, without them, the Macedonian authorities will not accept us."
This article was first published on February 22, 2016