Balkan states filter migrant flow

BELGRADE: Balkan countries have begun filtering the flow of migrants to Europe, granting passage to those fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan but turning back others from Africa and Asia, the United Nations and witnesses said on Thursday.

The move left hundreds of people stranded on borders; on Serbia’s frontier with European Union member Croatia, some 400 were denied access to a train and were halted by Croatian police as they tried to cross the border through fields, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said.

Others were stuck in no-man’s land between Macedonia and Greece, where Macedonia has become clearing ground for a possible fence.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melita Sunjic said Serbia had implemented a new approach from late Wednesday: “As of 6pm yesterday evening, Serbia started turning back (to Macedonia) all but Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.” “They turn back all the others to Macedonia.”

Sunjic said Macedonia was also barring refugees from certain countries including Liberia, Morocco, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

Croatia refused a request from Slovenia to take back migrants who have crossed the countries’ shared border and are not fleeing war, a police spokesman on Thursday.

“Slovenia asked us for the re-admission of 162 people. We did not accept that and have informed our neighbours about everything,” Croatian police spokesman Domagoj Dzigumovic said.

The request, made late Wednesday, referred to nationals of countries that were not affected by war, Dzigumovic said, adding that the 162 migrants were still in Slovenia.

Slovenia made no immediate comment on the Croatian decision.

Slovenia plans to call in army reservists later today to help police control migrant flows, Defence Ministry spokesman Ales Sila said on Thursday.

He said about 200 out of a total of 914 army reservists will be called in. 

Earlier on Thursday police said they plan to start returning economic migrants to neighbouring Croatia from where they arrived to Slovenia. 

However, reporters on Serbia’s border with Croatia said others from Iran, Libya and Lebanon were also still crossing.

Migrants arrived by bus at a petrol station near the border Serbian town of Sid, where police checked their papers. 

A police officer said they had been told not to let those from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Somalia board trains to Croatia. Those denied further passage were taken to a nearby camp.

Officials in Macedonia and Serbia said they acted after Slovenia informed them it would no longer grant access to those deemed to be “economic migrants.”

“We won’t allow anyone to enter Serbia who cannot continue their journey,” Serbia’s pointman for the migration crisis, Aleksandar Vulin, told reporters.

“We must protect our country and that is why we have undertaken reciprocal measures towards those for whom Slovenia and Croatia consider there is no place,” he said.

Jasmin Redzepi, president of Macedonian NGO LEGIS whose activists have been helping refugees and migrants at the border with Greece, said by telephone that Macedonia was also allowing only Iraqis, Afghans and Syrians into the country.

A photographer at the Macedonia-Greece border said that since 0830 GMT about 200 to 300 migrants were waiting in a “no man’s land” as police guarded the border, but he said the migrants were not trying to cross.