EU, UN criticize Balkan police crackdown on Afghan migrants

BRUSSELS -- The European Union and United Nations on Tuesday criticized new police restrictions imposed on those travelling along the main migrant route through the Balkans, where hundreds of Afghans have been blocked from crossing into Macedonia.

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Police chiefs from EU nations Austria, Croatia and Slovenia plus non-members Serbia and Macedonia agreed last week to only allow in people "arriving from war-torn areas."

They decided migrants must carry identity documents, be fleeing a conflict zone and have a "registration form issued by Greek authorities." The new rules block entry for people wanting to reunite with families, avoid military recruitment or escape "personal disputes."

"(We) have concerns about this approach, and will raise the matter with the relevant countries," the EU's executive arm said in a statement.

The move has stranded thousands of Afghans and others in Greece, where an average of 4,000 asylum-seekers land each day, even though some of the Afghans could potentially qualify for asylum.

The UN's refugee agency said the new police orders are "resulting in increased protection risks for refugees and asylum-seekers, particularly those with specific needs, such as unaccompanied and separated children."

It said the measures increased the risk that legitimate asylum-seekers could be turned back or "stranded in the open, exposed to freezing cold weather and at risk of violence and exploitation."

The medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders also denounced the police measures.

"European governments on this route continue to invent new and arbitrary criteria, with the sole goal of reducing the flow of people -- at any cost, and in complete disregard of humanitarian needs," said humanitarian adviser Aurelie Ponthieu.

The organization said 60 Afghans are trapped in a no-man's land between Serbia and Macedonia. Serbian authorities say they must register in Macedonia but Macedonian authorities are refusing to let them back in.

Earlier Tuesday, Greek police removed hundreds of migrants from a camp at the border with Macedonia following a protest that halted freight rail services to other Balkan countries. Authorities said the mostly Afghan migrants were being put on buses bound south for Athens. Journalists were refused access to the area.



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