UNHCR warns of new humanitarian problems building at crossings from Greece into the Balkans

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 November 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

On Friday last week, UNHCR, together with our partners IOM and Unicef, expressed our shared concern at the risks associated with a series of new and uncoordinated restrictions imposed on several borders in the Balkans in use by refugees and migrants. The negative consequences of these actions are already becoming clear as people become backed up in countries along the route and without proper solution to their situations. A new humanitarian situation is developing in Europe that needs urgent attention.

The new restrictions chiefly involve people being profiled on the basis of their alleged nationalities. At the borders between Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and between Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, nationals of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are being allowed to cross. Nationals of other countries are being stopped - about 1,000 people are stuck at the main entry point into Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from Greece. With frustrations growing, protests have erupted among some 200 people - mainly Iranians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Some 60 people are on hunger strike, and 11 individuals are reported to have stitched up their mouths. About 150 people have returned voluntarily over the past 48 hours to Athens where they are being advised that they can seek asylum. Near Edomani, the border point, UNHCR and partners have set up a transit centre consisting of 7 heated rubb halls where stranded people can stay the night and receive a hot meal.

With refugees and migrants expected to continue arriving in Europe via Greece over the winter and into 2016 it is imperative that the situation be managed in such a way as to minimize the risks of new problems being created. All people have the right the right to seek asylum, irrespective of their nationality and to have their individual cases heard. Proper information needs to be provided to people affected by decisions at border points, and proper counselling needs to be available. In addition, arrangements to accommodate people affected must be in place.

With the current situation in Greece, UNHCR remains concerned that the measures on the borders into Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and between Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia will play into the hands of people smugglers as people seek alternatives to the chaotic situations in which they find themselves. As we head into winter, stabilization and proper and comprehensive management of Europe's refugee and migrant situation remains urgently needed.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Athens, Stella Nanou on mobile +30 694 458 6037
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, William Spindler on mobile +41 79 217 3011