No passage for Afghans on Balkan route into West Europe

VIENNA -- Suddenly, Afghans appear to be the new pariahs of Europe.

Despite fleeing attacks in their homeland from the Taliban and alleged Islamic State militants, their quest for a safer life is being blocked at border after border in Europe -- and no country along the route wants to take the blame.

See Full Article

"(Everyone) is passing the responsibility down the line," said UN refugee spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, who added that her organization had not been informed of who was behind the decision on turning back Afghan refugees, or why.

Macedonia, the entry point from Greece after migrants cross the sea from Turkey, says Serbia is at fault. Officials say they have been forced to turn away Afghans seeking to move on toward other countries in Western Europe because Serbia, on the country's northern border, is not letting them through.

Serbia says it's blocking the Afghans after holding talks with Slovenia to the north and with Austria, which borders Slovenia and represents the end of the Balkan migrant route for those fleeing war, violence and economic hardship in the Mideast, Africa or Asia.

But Slovenia and Austria insist their borders remain open to all nationalities seeking asylum and deny giving orders to other countries to shut out anyone.

"A chain of deportations ... (is) taking place all the way down the Balkan land route," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, adding that Afghans stranded between Macedonia and Greece are exposed to "abject conditions."

"(These moves are) compounding the already exceptionally difficult situation in Greece," he added.

While no Europeans officials are willing to say why the Afghans are not being allowed to travel through, it would be difficult to claim that they, as a group, no longer qualify for asylum because security has improved back home.

In a report last month, the Pentagon's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said the Taliban now controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since 2001 and described the country as "even more dangerous than it was a year ago."

The UN mission in Afghanistan reported this month that of the 11,000 civilians killed and wounded in 2015, most were the victims of insurgents. It also said 10 per cent of the civilian casualties were women and 25 per cent were children.

Nine of at least 13 people killed Monday were civilians in the latest such attack -- a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's northern Parwan province.

Yet across Afghanistan, the greatest threat to stability is its failing economy. Economic growth has plunged from over 20 per cent a few years ago-- when international military and aid cash were pouring in -- to zero. The Afghan government has been incapable of creating jobs and investors shy away because of the lack of security. For the Afghan people, who are mostly under 25, this translates into a lack of hope for the future -- and has propelled so many to flee to Europe.

As the European border blame-game continues, the distress of Afghan refugees grows. At a Greek migrant camp, 24-year-old Jamshid Azizi said he tried to cross into Macedonia in the last few days but was sent back to Greece.

"It is very frustrating that they make the discrimination between Afghan asylum-seekers and Syrian asylum-seekers," Azizi said. "In Syria, there's war for five years. But in Afghanistan, there is war for more than three decades.

"If they want to block the road, they should block (it) for all," declared Azizi, who says he was an interpreter for NATO forces in Afghanistan, not an occupation looked upon kindly by the Taliban.

He and other Afghan refugees started getting rejected a week ago. Macedonian officials say Serbia acted first and their country followed four days later, barring all Afghan citizens from entry starting Tuesday. Serbia insists its borders are open -- but apparently to not to Afghans.

"Everyone can move in accordance with the rules set by Austria and Slovenia," said Serbian Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin. "Serbia does not decide who can pass through its territory without consulting the states up the migrant route."

In Slovenia, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Vesna Drole said her government's policy is to let anyone wanting to apply for asylum in Austria or German cross its border regardless of nationality. Karl-Heinz Grundboeck, her Austrian counterpart, also said his country remains open to all seeking asylum -- as long as the number applying at its southern border does not exceed 80 people a day.

Asked who was behind the Afghan border pileup further south, he says "controls and decisions of other states are their responsibility."

At a meeting Monday in Vienna, regional interior and foreign ministers announced specific new border controls and warned that borders across Europe may close for all sooner or later.

The potential for chaos is huge. Nearly 17,000 Afghans passed through Macedonia last month. Close to 10,000 more followed in February until Monday. By Thursday, 854 Afghans were stuck at Macedonia's border with Serbia, and 300 more on Serbia's border to Croatia.

Down the chain, Afghans make up about 30 per cent of the roughly 2,000 new arrivals per day in Greece. That nation displayed its anger at other countries' unilateral border decisions by recalling its ambassador Thursday from Vienna.

At a Serbian crossing point into Croatia, from where migrants are taken by train to the Slovenian border, refugee agency field worker Giorgi Sanikidze said the regulations for who could come in are changing "on a daily basis."

Worst affected is Greece -- the entry point for the most of the more than 1 million migrants who arrived in Europe last year. The financially strapped nation has already seen over 100,000 more refugees come in so far this year and its migration minister, Ioannis Mouzalas, expects the number of stranded migrants in his country to reach "tens of thousands."

As the bloc's 28 interior ministers met in Brussels to assess the rapidly deteriorating situation, EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulus warned that "the unity of the union and lives -- human lives -- are at stake."

Camped out in Athens as he waited for the Macedonian border to open, Aman Golestani, a 22-year-old Afghan psychology student, expressed those fears in even starker terms.

"The Taliban are killing people like us," he said.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Driver and owner of train in Lac-Megantic disaster added to class action lawsuit

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- A Quebec Superior Court judge is allowing changes to the class action lawsuit in the 2013 Lac-Megantic disaster. Justice Martin Bureau ruled Monday the conductor as well as the owner of the runaway train that exploded and killed 47 people have been added as respondents. Source
  • Eight puppies discovered in garbage bag in Ontario: SPCA

    Canada News CTV News
    The Ontario SPCA is urging anyone with information concerning the discovery of eight puppies in a garbage bag in Midland, Ont. to come forward. According to a press release by the Ontario SPCA, a local resident discovered the puppies inside the bag in a ditch on Baseline Road South while they were outside doing yard work on Oct. Source
  • Tip from psychiatric hospital led to probe into alleged nursing home murders: source

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- The Canadian Press has learned that the investigation into the alleged murders of eight long-term care home residents was launched after police received a tip from a psychiatric hospital in Toronto. A police source familiar with the investigation says officials from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health alerted the Toronto police that Elizabeth Wettlaufer, a nurse from Woodstock, Ont. Source
  • Earthquake rattles central Italy, including Rome

    World News CTV News
    ROME -- An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.4 rattled a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, on Wednesday, just two months after a powerful temblor toppled villages, killing nearly 300 people. There were no immediate reports of damage. Source
  • Mom found overdosed in car with baby in back seat: police

    World News CTV News
    HOPE, Ind. -- Police in Indiana say a 25-year-old woman has been found passed out from an overdose with her baby in the back seat of the car. Police in Hope, Indiana, have released a picture of Erika Hurt as they found her on Saturday afternoon. Source
  • General: Extremists plotting attacks on West from Raqqa

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence has detected signs of Islamic State plotting against the West from their Syrian stronghold at Raqqa, adding urgency to coalition plans to encircle and eventually assault the city, a senior American general said Wednesday. Source
  • OPP to text potential murder witnesses after carriers ordered to release numbers

    Canada News CTV News
    The Ontario Provincial Police will be texting cellphone users who were in the vicinity of a murder victim last December, hoping someone can offer information to help solve the crime. But one criminal lawyer says the police may be on shaky legal ground if the text canvass produces any evidence. Source
  • Canada ranks 35th on World Economic Forum gender gap list

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada has come 35th — sandwiched between Luxembourg and Cape Verde — in the latest World Economic Forum annual report on gender-based disparities around the world. Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the top four countries on the WEF's Global Gender Gap index, which measures differences between men and women in economics, education, health and political empowerment among 144 countries. Source
  • Four Quebec men charged in alleged ATM fraud scheme in Vermont

    Canada News CTV News
    BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The Vermont U.S. Attorney's Office says four Quebec men have been arrested and charged in an alleged fraud scheme involving ATMs in the Burlington area. The suspects, who are residents of Montreal and Laval, were charged Tuesday with conspiracy to use access devices fraudulently resulting in the receipt of more than $1,000 in cash. Source
  • Inquest called into death of man shot by police following chase, standoff

    Canada News CTV News
    WINNIPEG -- An inquest has been called into the death of a man shot by Winnipeg police last November. Mark Dicesare, who was 24, was killed after a police chase and standoff with officers. Source