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Blocked by the Balkans, where will migrants stranded in Greece go?

Greek riot police closed down a temporary transit camp used by refugees and migrants after Balkan countries like Macedonia closed their frontiers to those seeking passage who do not come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Where will the rejected migrants go now? Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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    Greek riot police have closed down a temporary transit camp used by refugees and migrants on the border with Macedonia. The action comes as Balkan countries, including Macedonia, have closed their frontiers to all nationalities except those from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    That leaves thousands of so-called economic migrants hoping to reach northern Europe stranded in Greece.

    From the border, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.


    The police sealed off the village of Idomeni at dawn and expelled news teams from the makeshift camp, so the operation wouldn't be conducted under the glare of publicity.

    Extra riot police in full battle gear were brought in. And there are claims on social media that excessive force was used to remove people from their tents. Hundreds of migrants were placed on buses and sent back to Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki.

    The closure of the camp provoked strong emotions from Jenny Ostlund, a volunteer from Sweden.

  • JENNY OSTLUND, Volunteer:

    Driving them back to Athens without a real options, like, we don't really know what they will be forced to do now. Will they be deported from Athens? Or — like, these people need a viable option right now. And just moving them from one place to another will not to clear up their situation right now.


    The Greek operation represents a substantial change in policy, because, for months, they had helped refugees on their way north.

    But the Greeks' hand was forced by the Balkan countries, which had decided that they would only accept refugees from the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

    These were the poignant poster boys of the last demonstration about the double anguish of thwarted journeys and reluctance to retrace steps.

    Osman Zihra was an airport worker in Morocco. Weary of what he called bad democracy and insecure employment prospects, he joined the migrant trail. But the thousands he spent to get here so far count for nothing.

    OSMAN ZIHRA, Moroccan economic migrant: Europe needs much more people to work for them, because European people aren't going to work like us. We can work Saturday. We can work Sunday. We can go after hours of work. We can work more hours. But they — and we can be cheap for — you understand me?


    Two decades into Europe's open-border project, razor wire now separates some countries in Central Europe and the Balkans. The Macedonian government claims it erected the fence to improve control of the migrant flow. This gate was the only entry point for Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.

    The Macedonians rejected anyone with suspicious papers. They protested that they were one people, but the migrant trail now has a class system that is frustrating Tassdaq Hussain from Pakistan.

    TASSDAQ HUSSAIN, Pakistani migrant: If we have no problem there, then why I come here? We have much problems there in Pakistan. And, therefore, we come here. And no woman wants to leave her family, her homeland if there is a suitable job and other things available in his country.


    George Kosmopoulos from Amnesty International could offer nothing but sympathy.

  • GEORGE KOSMOPOULOS, Director, Amnesty International Greece:

    But I don't they will let you pass for the moment. I don't know what the police will do. I'm really sorry I can't help you.

    Everyone substantially has the right to claim asylum, has the right to explain their individual circumstances, and then there should be a decision whether these people are refugees or not. What we actually see here is just people being divided according to nationality and nothing else.

    And that's discrimination. It's not fair, to put it simply, because anyone can be a refugee. Anyone might have protection needs. And this is simply not taken into account here.


    Before the closure, Alexandros Voulgaris, from the U.N. Refugee Agency, failed to persuade these young Somalis to consider returning to Athens or perhaps beyond.


    Why are you still here, when you see and you know that this is a policy decision, and the countries have taken this decision for you?


    Maybe they will change their opinion. Always, they believe it will be changed.


    The door is closed and they need to start considering their other options.


    And what are those options?


    For those that have refugee profiles, the asylum procedures. And for those that do not have, there is always IOM, the International Organization for Migration, where they can apply to return to their countries.


    What happened?

  • MAN:



    Earlier this week, the Macedonians supported scores of economic migrants. Some appeared to be injured after crossing mountains from Greece. Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Macedonians of firing rubber bullets at asylum seekers.

  • MAN:

    Thank you, Greece. Police, Greece, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  • MAN:

    No pictures.


    So where do the rejected migrants go now?

    Giannis Papageorgiou, a political scientist who specializes in immigration policy, believes they will try alternative groups to get out of Greece.

  • GIANNIS PAPAGEORGIOU, Political Scientist, Aristotle University:

    As far as the risk of refugees or migrants staying in Greece, yes, it is a genuine risk. To some extent, I think that the economic situation of the country would deter them from staying long, because they have nothing to do. They have — it is difficult to survive in Greece, even — and they would have to live in some form of camps, which I don't think they would.


    We want freedom! We want freedom! We want freedom! We want freedom!


    But Europe is becoming increasingly deaf to this appeal. Even the more hospitable nations like Germany and Sweden are promising to deport those who don't merit political asylum.

    Idomeni represents a new European reality. It's a field of broken dreams.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant on the Greek-Macedonian border.

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