Refugees board a train in Gevgelija, Macedonia. Tensions were running high at the border after Macedonian authorities announced they would allow transit only for people from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Photo by Borce Popovski/UPI | License Photo
SKOPJE, Macedonia, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- More than 1,000 migrants protested Macedonia's new policy of processing only refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where an immediate risk is present, and telling the rest to return to their own countries.
Migrants blocked traffic at the Macedonia-Greece border, some of them lying down on railroad tracks while others sewed their lips shut and called for hunger strikes.
Macedonia changed its immigration policy last week following the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and the discovery that at least one of the terrorists involved had likely traveled through Macedonia to reach France.
More than 4,500 people entered Macedonia on Saturday, traveling through the Balkan peninsula from Turkey. Refugees from countries other than Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have been classified as only "economic migrants" and told to return to their own countries. But many, including migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco, are demanding access to pass through to Central and Western Europe.
"We won't go back," signs held by many migrants read. Others lay on train tracks to block trains bound for Greece, and a report said one person attempted suicide before Macedonian police intervened.
Donald Tusk, European Council President, said in the Macedonian capital, Skopje on Sunday: "We are ready to offer bigger technical and humanitarian support but once we make an assessment of the situation. I will talk to the EU (European Union) states to see what more can be done for these countries in the first line of the migrant wave. Our goal now has to be to reduce the inflow of the refugees, not simply to facilitate their transit."
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov criticized the EU for its handling of the refugee crisis and for not aiding his country, which is not an EU member, saying "Macedonia is a school example how one shouldn't behave towards an EU candidate country. The migrant crisis revealed all weak points of the EU. Macedonia is not a member state and had to declare an emergency situation because of the migrant wave that comes from an EU country. Since the beginning of the crisis, half a million migrants transited through Macedonia and we have received no aid. Macedonia spends its own funds to address the crisis and so far we have spent over 10 million euros."