BELGRADE: Countries along the migrant route through the Balkans have begun tightening restrictions by accepting only those fleeing war, causing a backlog of hundreds of people Thursday on the Greek-Macedonian border.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty across the Mediterranean have travelled up from Greece through the Balkans this year, aiming to start new lives in more prosperous northern European countries.
But officials in Balkan countries at the heart of the migrant route said Thursday they were restricting the crossings of economic migrants and allowing in only those fleeing conflict.
“Croatia is accepting migrants only from war-affected countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan,” a Croatian police spokeswoman Marina Mandic told AFP.
“Croatia informed other countries that so-called economic migrants will not be able to pass through the so-called Balkans route,” she said.
Similar statements were made by Serbia and Macedonia.
AFP reporters said 2,000 people were gathered at the Greek-Macedonia border waiting to cross.
A Greek police source nearby said no migrants at all had been allowed to enter Macedonia since the morning, but a source at the interior ministry in the capital Skopje said the influx would soon restart.
The latest restrictions appeared to stem from a request from Slovenia to Croatia to take back a group of economic migrants who had crossed their shared border.
“Slovenian police proposed to Croatia yesterday, based on our bilateral agreement, the return of 160 migrants from Morocco who turned out to be typical economic migrants,” Slovenian Interior Minister’s spokesman Bostjan Sefic told reporters.
“I’ve been informed that Croatia has formally rejected the return of those migrants. Therefore, they will remain in the migrant flow since we cannot return them.”
He denied Slovenia was returning all economic migrants, but countries further down the migrant trail subsequently tightened controls for fear of new arrivals getting stuck on their territory.