Macedonian NGO warns risk of fostering refugees smuggling after Balkan route closure

As border closures took place since mid-February along the Balkan route to central Europe, lots of refugees were still stranded in countries including Greece and Macedonia. Legis, a Macedonian NGO, has warned the risks of fostering refugees smuggling after the close of the Balkan route.

The "decision like closing the Balkan route will benefit the illegal migration, will benefit the smugglers," said Mersiha Smailovic from Legis in an recent interview with Xinhua.

Smailovic noted that the NGO Legis in Skopje is very active in helping the migrants and refugees that went through Macedonia as part of the huge migrant crisis. They have started the work since October 2014.

"We noticed the reports of the Ministry of Interior that a train hit one Afghan man and his baby. We tried to understand how we have refugees from countries like Afghanistan in Macedonia,"she said, adding that then in southeast city of Gevgelija, near the border with Greece, they saw a group of refugees entering Macedonia illegally cross the rails by night.

Since then the organization has been trying to help migrants in Macedonia, especially those that are stuck in the two migration centers since the close of the Balkan route.

Smailovic briefed that now there are about 130 refugees at the moment stuck in the camps in Gevgelija.

"Since the Ministry and the Red Cross are in charge of food, we are giving non-food items, hygienic items, including shampoos and cream, because they need sun protection cream, they need towels so they can wash themselves. Also we have tea, black tea because they like to drink black tea," she said.

Moreover, donors for Legis gave ping-pong tables."We will put them in the camps so the refugees can play and learn how to play ping-pong," said Smailovic.

She briefed that given many Balkan countries had closed their borders for refugees, there is a domino effect that even refugees entered Macedonia via Greece, they still cannot go straight forward to Germany which is the destination for major refugees.

"We manage sometimes to have some influence on the refugees, but unfortunately we don't know who are the people forcing them, showing them maps where the border is open and putting them in risk, like when they crossed the river in the village Moin," she said, noting that in Greek border area of Idomeni, migrants have pamphlets and brochures telling them that the route will be open, which ran counter to the fact.

Smailovic briefed that as a NGO working in Macedonia, they are very proud to see for the first time "everybody all together working for the same cause -- how to help the refugees."

She believed that people cannot stop the flow of migration or refugees traveling unless problems of war and poverty can be solved.

"You can stop the flow if you stop the war in Syria or if you stop the war in Iraq and if you give stability to Afghanistan. So you have to go to the basis of the conflict, which is in Syria and in these other countries. You have to go to the main source. Because people are running from Syria with desperate stories, losing their children, losing their families..." she said.

In 2015, the UNHCR said 1,000,573 people had reached Europe across the Mediterranean, mainly to Greece and Italy, half a million of them Syrians escaping war in their country, with Afghans accounting for 20 percent and Iraqis for seven percent. Endit