Macedonia slammed for border closing | News | DW | 23.02.2016
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Macedonia slammed for border closing

As 100,000 refugees pour into Europe, Austria and Macedonia have introduced border restrictions. Greece has condemned Austria's regional summit plan, while the UN's refugee agency is unhappy with Skopje's actions.

More than 110,000 refugees have arrived in the European Union since the beginning of the year, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday.

The IOM says 102,547 people have landed on a trio of Greek islands - Samos, Kos and Lesbos - near the Turkish coast, where the refugees set off from.

But IOM spokesman Itayi Viriri said that, of the 413 people who have died trying to reach the EU this year, 321 perished en-route to Greece.

In addition to the huge arrivals in Greece, another 7,507 have come ashore in Italy. Last year the 100,000 figure wasn't topped until the end of June.

Scores of refugees walk along a road to the Greek-Macedonian border.

Refugees walk towards the Greek-Macedonian border

"An estimated 35,000 migrants and refugees have reached the Greek islands so far in February alone," Viriri said, adding that almost 50 percent were Syrians and a quarter were from Afghanistan, while another 17 percent were from Iraq.

Most have continued their journey north, he said. "We understand that an estimated 26,000 have already passed the Greek border with... Macedonia in February alone."

But open passage to wealthier European countries to the north is now threatened by a cascade of closing, or restricted, borders, including Macedonia's virtual closing of its border with Greece.

UN refugee agency spokeswoman Karin de Gruijl slammed the Macedonian move and "all of these measures aimed at keeping refugees out, (which) are causing numerous hardships for the people arriving.

"We are concerned about the profiling of refugees at the borders," she told reporters, stressing that countries should be determining who should be allowed in not on the basis of nationality but based on "whether they are in need of international protection or not."

Watch video 02:01

Q & A on Macedonian border closure

Austria's about face

Austria was a strong supporter of the refugees last year but has done an about-face, adopting more restrictive border conditions

Vienna's latest move, a planned summit meeting on Wednesday with its Balkan neighbors, without Greece, has drawn sharp rebukes from Athens and the UN.

Ministers from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia are expected to attend the meeting called "Managing Migration Together."

But Greece has summoned the Austrian ambassador to protest over being left out of the talks.

"This one-sided and not-at-all-friendly move towards our country…is an attempt to take decisions in Greece's absence that directly affect Greece and Greek borders," Greece's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also slammed EU countries for their newly unilateral and arbitrary border controls.

"With every passing week," the UNHCR said in a statement, "it appears some European countries are focusing on keeping refugees and migrants out more than on responsibly managing the flow and working on common solutions."

Flüchtlinge Lesbos Griechenland Silhouette Licht Schatten

Refugees line up to board a ferry on Lesbos island, Greece

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