Macedonia border closure leaves refugees with no hope: Skopje classifies them as “economic migrants”


Most of the asylum seekers say they want to go to Germany or Sweden [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Patrick Strickland |
05 Dec 2015 14:37 GMT | Refugees, War & Conflict, Politics, Europe, Macedonia

Idomeni, Greece – Makeshift camps and flimsy tents are scattered along the train tracks leading to the Macedonian border, while some families are living in decrepit old train cars.

An abandoned cafe’s windows have been smashed out and inside are several tents and wet mattresses.

“Stop Europe’s racist borders,” graffiti reads on the outside wall. “Hunger,” another says plainly, in Arabic.

An estimated 3,000 asylum seekers remain stuck at the Idomeni border crossing in Greece because of Macedonia’s refusal to allow entry for those who cannot prove Iraqi, Syrian or Afghan citizenship.

Read more: Meet the Iranians turned away by Macedonia

Among those Macedonia has classified as “economic migrants” and barred from entry are Moroccans, Tunisians, Iranians, Algerians, Yemenis, Eritreans, Pakistanis and Somalis.

Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov has said the move was designed to prevent tension between Macedonians and those entering the country.

Ivanov said that any more than 2,000 refugees crossing through the country at any given moment would cause “permanent and direct threats and risks for national security”.

Yet, despite the closures, more people continue to arrive each day.

Ali, a 24-year-old law student from Iran, wants to go to Germany or the Netherlands.

“I would go anywhere, though,” he told Al Jazeera. “Who will take us?”

As he spoke, hundreds of heavily armed Greek border police in riot control gear assembled between the crowds gathered at the border and a fence erected last week by Macedonian forces.

“Iran is a beautiful country and people are very good, but the velayat-e faqih is terrorism,” said Ali, referring to the Iranian government’s founding ideology.

On the other side of the border, dozens of Macedonian troops smoked cigarettes and watched on.

Najeeb, 29, left his home town of Casablanca in Morocco 17 days ago. After hiring smugglers to transport him on a dinghy with more than 50 others from Turkey to a Greek island, he said he made it to the Macedonian border last week.

“They won’t let us pass,” he said. “I haven’t showered in seven days. There are five of us in a small tent. It’s very cold at night and it was raining a few days ago.”

Najeeb and his friends said they left Morocco because there was nothing there for them.

“We may not have a civil war like Syria, but we don’t have a future. There is a political war and the government oppresses everyone who demands their rights.”.

Although he hopes to be reunited with his brother in Italy, he is pessimistic.

“If the border is closed, it’s closed. I guess there’s no hope left, but we don’t know what else to do,” he said while coughing heavily.

Read the article here. (Originally posted on Al Jazeera)