Macedonia has completely closed its border with Greece to what it says are illegal migrants, following similar restrictions by Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia.
The decision effectively blocks the Balkan route used by refugees to reach Western Europe. Macedonia will send police and military personnel to enforce the closure, France 24 reported on Wednesday.
No refugees were registered in Macedonia on Tuesday, the interior ministry told the Reuters news agency.
Slovenia said on Tuesday it would only admit people who plan to seek asylum in the country or have “clear humanitarian needs,” BBC reported.
Croatia’s Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic said the decision is aimed at reestablishing “a regular border regime.” Croatia is negotiating with Athens to return over 400 people stranded in a camp to Greece, Reuters said.
Other people are stranded at camps across the Balkan states: More than 400 people are stuck in a “no man’s land” between Serbia and Macedonia and around 1,000 are stranded at a refugee camp on the Serbian side of the border. Thousands of people have been stranded for weeks at the Idomeni crossing at Greek-Macedonian border; by Tuesday, about 13,000 people were at the makeshift camp.
Greek-Macedonia border closed for last two days. Terrible conditions at Idomeni camp, full of desperation. pic.twitter.com/CK2g4kAR9N
— Peter Bouckaert (@bouckap) March 8, 2016
More than a million people used the Balkan route to reach Western Europe last year, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The closures come as the European Union and Turkey outlined an agreement that would allow for the widespread deportation of asylum-seekers from Europe. The deal is intended to remove incentives for asylum-seekers to pay traffickers to cross the Mediterranean, but the U.N. is concerned the deal would deny people the safeguards enshrined in international refugee law, specifically the universal right to cross borders to seek asylum.
“An asylum-seeker should only be returned to a third state, if the responsibility for assessing the particular asylum application in substance is assumed by the third country; the asylum-seeker will be protected from refoulement; and if the individual will be able to seek and, if recognized, enjoy asylum in accordance with accepted international standards, and have full and effective access to education, work, health care and, as necessary, social assistance,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said during an address to the European Parliament.
— UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) March 8, 2016
If approved, the agreement would allow Greece to deport asylum-seekers back to Turkey in exchange for Europe accepting an equal number of people registered in Turkish refugee camps. Turkey has requested an additional €3 billion ($3.3 billion) to help it care for refugees. The deal would also relax visa restrictions on Turkish citizens traveling in Europe and “speed up” talks on Turkey entering the EU.
Humanitarian organizations and human rights groups are outraged at the deal. “European leaders have completely lost track of reality,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Tuesday. Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the rapid pace of deportations, and Vincent Cochetel, head of the U.N. refugee agency’s European bureau, said the plan is inconsistent with both European and international law.
(Image: Peter Bouckaert/Twitter)