Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Forgotten Refugees Trapped In No-Mans Lan

Thousands of refugees are stuck at Macedonia's border because of Macedonia's refusal to allow entry for those who cannot prove Iraqi, Syrian or Afghani citizenship. Macedonia classifies Moroccans, Tunisians, Iranians, Algerians, Yemenis, Eritreans, Pakistanis and Somalis as "economic migrants" and they are barred from entry. Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia have imposed similar restrictions.

Vassilis Naum, a surgeon at the Doctors of the World organisation, speaking to Al Jazeera, Naum said that there was a health crisis among those who are passing through Idomeni and those who are stuck. "There is a water shortage here," Naum said. "Many people don't have food or medicine. We are dealing with widespread infections, colds, sore throats, diarrhoea, gastrointestinal problems - everything you can imagine. We expect it to get much worse if something doesn't happen. The weather is getting worse and worse every day," he added. 

"It is not acceptable that people who want to seek asylum are being segregated by nationalities. The right to ask for asylum is universal and cannot be connected to certain nationalities," said Stephane Moissaing, MSF head of mission in Serbia. "We’re extremely worried about the latest developments and fear that people will be stranded without any assistance, shelter and food, just as winter sets in. We're seeing people who are desperate because they don't have any information on where to go or what they should do next."

Human rights groups have also criticised Macedonian measures.
"We urge Macedonia to end its discriminatory policy at the border, which is fuelling tensions," Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. "Thousands of people are caught between a rock and a hard place, in dire conditions and with no ability to claim asylum," Van Gulik added.

Human Rights Watch has also denounced the border restrictions. Speaking to Al Jazeera, researcher Lydia Gall said that discriminating by nationality "is a violation of international refugee law" also said: "This direct discrimination against specific nationalities - preventing them from exercising their right to seek asylum - puts people at risk of being further stuck at various borders in Europe, exposed to harsh conditions as the weather gets colder. Instead of collective discrimination at borders, EU member states Slovenia and Croatia and candidate countries Serbia and Macedonia should coordinate to ensure that everyone can present their asylum claims and that people are not trapped at borders amid worsening weather."

Zagreb-based Milena Zajovic, spokesperson for the Are You Syrious group aimed at keeping refugees informed, told Al Jazeera, "You can't just declare all of the potential asylum seekers from one country 'economic migrants' and send them back without knowing what they are running away from. Every asylum seeker should have the right for his case to be heard. At this moment, EU is taking this right away from them."

Jill Goldenziel, professor of human rights and refugees at Harvard University in the US, told Al Jazeera, "The health of refugees is in danger if they're stranded and not receiving enough medical assistance, and are now endangered by the cold. And mental health issues are being compounded by further mistreatment they are facing from Balkan countries - these are people who have experienced trauma, either from what they have witnessed at home or during their voyage. Some have seen people die, or lost members of their family."

Compassion is a 10-letter word. It has no place in the vocabularies of politicians. 

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