Migrant crisis: Macedonia shuts Balkans route

Macedonia has said it will no longer let any migrants through its border with Greece, effectively blocking the Balkan route north.

The decision came after Slovenia barred access to migrants transiting the country. Croatia and Serbia then said they would follow suit.

Some 13,000 migrants are now stranded at the Macedonia-Greece border.

Migrants on the Greece-Macedonia border, 9 March

The moves come after the EU and Turkey set out a plan to ease Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.

Under the plan, still to be finalised, all migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey would be sent back. For each Syrian returned, a Syrian in Turkey would be resettled in the EU.

Announcing the plan on Monday, European Council President Donald Tusk, had said there would no longer be a path to Europe for migrants. “The days of irregular migration to Europe are over,” he said.
Hungary fence

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have travelled through Macedonia over the past year, heading north.

But Macedonia began to limit the numbers, first to Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi migrants, then recently to just a trickle – mainly Syrians from areas it considered conflict zones.
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Media captionChristian Fraser at the Idomeni camp: “It’s beginning to dawn on people that the gate isn’t going to open any time soon”

This created a bottleneck, with some 13,000 migrants now living in a sprawling camp at the Idomeni crossing.

Macedonia’s announcement came after Slovenia said late on Tuesday that it would allow in only migrants who planned to seek asylum in the country, or those with clear humanitarian needs.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said the country’s move meant that “the Balkan route for illegal migration no longer exists”.

Serbia then said it would close its borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria to those without valid documents.

“Bearing in mind that the new regime is implemented by a member of the European Union (Slovenia), Serbia cannot afford to become a collection centre for refugees,” it said in a statement.

Croatia announced similar measures. Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic said this was a “new phase in resolving the migrant crisis”.

Sebastian Kurz, the foreign minister of Austria, which itself has introduced caps on the number of migrants allowed through, welcomed the moves.

He said: “This is putting into effect what is correct, and that is the end of the ‘waving through’ [of migrants] which attracted so many migrants last year and was the wrong approach.”