Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Three people die after EU border clampdown

Two men and one woman on Monday (14 March) became the first victims of the EU’s decision to close Western Balkan borders.

They drowned in the Suva river, swollen after days of heavy rain, near the Greek border with Macedonia, Macedonia's interior ministry said. Police said 23 other people were rescued and taken to a camp on the Macedonian side.

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They were part of a group of more than 1,000 asylum seekers who tried to get round the new border restrictions by setting out on foot to the Suva river area, where there is no fence.

Media present at the scene said that families with small children carrying all their belongings tried to cross by holding onto a rope in order not to be swept away by powerful currents.

The exodus came after the Western Balkan closure, last week, created a build-up of 12,000 people who are living in miserable conditions on the Greek side.

Those who managed to cross the river were detained by the Macedonian police or army for illegally crossing the border. Macedonia said they’ll be sent back to Greece.

Police also took the group of about 20 journalists who followed the migrants from Idomeni to a police station in Gevgelija, Macedonia.

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to work out the details of a broader agreement with Turkey on the refugee crisis.

Under the deal, Turkey would take back asylum seekers from Greece, while EU countries would resettle refugees directly from Turkey.

Part of the objective, as laid out in an earlier summit on 7 March, is to deter people from risking their lives in Agean crossings.

Despite the draft accord, 1,700 people landed on Greek islands from Turkey in the past 24 hours, the French press agency, AFP, reported.

Fourteen EU states have sent humanitarian aid to Greece to help manage its nationwide build-up of 40,000 asylum seekers.

The European Commission said that over the weekend, the Netherlands delivered 12 minivans and 90 electricity generators. The UK sent over 1,000 tents and France sent four sanitary containers, 12 sheltering containers and 5,000 jerry cans.

Austria, Germany, Spain, Lithuania, Hungary, Norway and Sweden are to make additional deliveries this week.

Merkel sticks to course

German chancellor Angela Merkel admitted on Monday that Germany has benefited from the decision of Balkan countries to close their borders to migrants.

But she said it can't be a long-term solution.

"It is unquestionable that Germany benefits from it [the route closure], but we can see from pictures out of Greece that that is not a sustainable solution," she was quoted as saying by AFP.

She spoke after her centre-right CDU party suffered a serious defeat on Sunday in regional polls over her liberal refugee policy.

The chancellor is now counting on the deal with Turkey to get a grip on the crisis. "I think that the [Turkey] approach is correct," she said on Monday.

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