Macedonian police used pepper spray and stun grenades to repel a group of several hundred migrants attempting to cross into the country from Greece. DW spoke to Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski about the incident.
DW: Television footage in Germany and many other countries has shown dramatic refugee scenes in no-man's-land at the Greek-Macedonian border. How do you see the current situation?
Oliver Spasovski: The situation on the border is controlled and stable. The police are acting professionally. We understand the difficult situation of these people, who are mostly here not because they want to be, but because they have to be, they have traveled a long way, have been mistreated, they have little children and that probably creates their anger. It certainly does not give anyone the right to violate the security forces, which are there to perform their work. The refugee crisis certainly concerns the citizens of Macedonia, as well as their fellow citizens in Europe, because this is a mutual problem.
What could happen if the number of people you consider "economic migrants" - and who are not allowed entry into Macedonia - continues to rise? Do you see any solution for the problem?
The number of migrants has increased and because of this we took measures, like other countries of the region - Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia - enabling transit of the refugees only from the crisis hotspots of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq. As you know, notes arrived from EU countries that economic migrants cannot be accepted. On the other hand, there are international conventions, which state that everyone has the right for protection. We are in constant contact with the European Union and all our future activities will be conducted in coordination with the EU and EU decisions. I would emphasize again that this is not a problem only for Macedonia, but also a problem for Europe, and calls for appropriate measures for handling the situation.
Greece puts the blame on Macedonia for the border congestion. Is there any cooperation between the two countries about the refugee problem?
To overcome the situation, we must have communication and coordination with all countries of the region and Europe, and we are constantly doing this. We have established cooperation with the Greek police, which is necessary for the safety of Greece and Macedonia. Relieving this tense situation can be achieved only through an agreement to come to good solutions, which will mean non-disturbance of the security situation in both countries. We can provide this only with mutual cooperation.
UN agencies, UNESCO in particular, recently criticized Macedonia and its readiness to accept refugees. Having in mind that the winter is approaching, what is your country doing to improve the situation?
Macedonia is obliged by international conventions to protect human rights, as it has a responsibility to its citizens to ensure their security and social stability. For a long time the issue of the refugee crisis was swept under the carpet. How many refugees in that time illegally remained in Macedonia and perhaps for some purposes is a serious issue. I am seriously committed to protecting the citizens of Macedonia. At the same time, I hope that as a country, we will respond to the challenges, including adequate protection of human rights and the humane treatment of people in need.
This interview was conducted by Zoran Jordanovski, head of DW 's Macedonia department.