The United Nations refugee agency is assisting refugees and migrants amid chaotic scenes over the weekend as thousands of people tried to cross into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from the Greek border.
In a press release, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the situation was “noticeably calmer and more orderly” on Sunday and Monday, as almost 2,000 individuals crossed from Greece into former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, fleeing the war in Syria. The majority of people – including many young families with small children – said they had passed through Turkey and travelled by boat to Greece.
According to UNHCR, More than 10,000 people had reached Serbia since Saturday night after crossing from Greece to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and take a train or bus at the town of Gevgelija.
In Serbia, UNHCR has been supporting the authorities and non-governmental organizations in receiving and assisting new arrivals at the Presevo transit centre, in the south. The agency has released limited food stocks for distribution and, in response to a Serbian government appeal, is looking at ways to bring in more supplies, including sleeping mats, blankets, tents and accommodation halls.
Meanwhile, there was no noticeable increase of refugees or migrants apprehended by the police while entering Hungry over the weekend. Many refugees who had arrived in Hungary – which has, this year, received more than 120,000 asylum applications – wished to reach family in other parts of Europe.
Border authorities in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have been struggling to cope with the large numbers of people trying to enter, and on Friday and Saturday temporarily sealed the border. UNHCR has, at the same time, received assurances from the Government that the border will be open to refugees fleeing conflict in their countries of origin.
In this connection, UNHCR stressed that the authorities urgently needed to boost their border presence and capacity for a more orderly and protection-sensitive flow. The agency added that it stood ready to help establish sufficient reception capacity as well as organized registration and identification.
UNHCR also reiterated its appeal to the Greek authorities to provide urgent assistance to those stranded on the Greek side of the border, enhance registration and reception arrangements, and help move the refugees and migrants to reception facilities deeper inside Greece.
“Most of those arriving at the border have suffered immensely before even reaching Greece and need understanding, protection and assistance,” UNHCR emphasized.
UNHCR staff have been at the border since the start, monitoring the situation and helping the vulnerable. Most recently, the UN agency and its partners have delivered food, water, sanitary items as well as plastic sheeting and blankets to those in need on the Greek side of the border. Volunteers have also helped with the distributions.
UNHCR has worked in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with the local Red Cross to reunite families separated during the confusion while crossing the border on Friday and Saturday. In addition, UNHCR has been working closely with groups of volunteers to dispense food, water and blankets.
At the Gevgelija railway station, UNHCR has set up a resting point offering refugees protection from the weather and providing legal advice on documentation, registration and asylum procedures for those heading north by train to Serbia. The agency has also funded the hire of data entry clerks to support the registration process.
“UNHCR believes more needs to be done by Greece and former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to tackle a problem that will not go away any time soon and affects all of Europe,” said Vincent Cochetel, who directs UNHCR's Europe Bureau. “We call again on EU member states to step up help to Greece, [the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] and Serbia.”