Monday 23 September 2019

Macedonia builds 10ft fence as migrant policies tighten in Europe

Ring of steel: Macedonian soldiers build up a metal fence at the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni
Ring of steel: Macedonian soldiers build up a metal fence at the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni
Riot police use shields to subdue stranded migrants fighting over goods given away by locals
Stranded migrants fight over goods given away by locals at the Greek-Macedonian borders near the village of Idomeni, Greece

Senay Boztas, Colin Freeman and Dominic Evans

Macedonia has become the latest European country to build a fence to restrict migrants over its frontier, as border police clashed with groups of asylum seekers yesterday.

In a move that follows the controversial policy pioneered by Hungary, Macedonian soldiers began driving 10ft-high metal poles into the cold, muddy ground along its southern border with Greece.

The migrants use Macedonia, a non-EU member, as a transit point for their journeys onward to northern Europe.

As construction work on the fence began, police fired tear gas and stun grenades at crowds who have found themselves stranded at the Greek border since Macedonia changed its policy on which migrants it allows through two weeks ago.

Like other Balkan nations on the migrant route, Macedonia has now begun turning away "economic migrants" and allows through only those who come from war zones, such as Syria.

Greek police say about 800 migrants are stranded on the Greek side in worsening weather after Macedonia blocked access to citizens of countries that are not being fast-tracked for asylum in the European Union.

The movement of citizens from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan continues uninterrupted.

The move has triggered days of protests from Iranians, Pakistanis, Moroccans and others, most of whom are now stuck in tent camps on the border.

Some Iranians have sewn their lips shut.

One man yesterday threw himself on railway lines before the police, screaming and flailing.

The violence started after one migrant, believed to be a Moroccan, was electrocuted and badly burned when he climbed on top of a train wagon.

An angry crowd surged towards lines of Macedonian police and began throwing stones, a photographer at the scene said.

The Macedonian government insists it has no intention of sealing its border completely.

A government spokesman said the aim of the fence was "to direct the inflow of people towards the controlled points for their registration and humane treatment".

"We would like to underline that the border will remain open," said Aleksandar Gjorgjiev, a government spokesman.

"We will allow passage for the people who come from war-affected regions as we have done thus far."

The number of migrants making the journey to Europe rose dramatically this year compared with 2014, although the influx shows signs of decreasing as winter approaches.

Germany expects roughly one million refugees and migrants to arrive this year alone.

Meanwhile, all non-EU newcomers to the Netherlands will now be forced to sign a declaration saying they will uphold Dutch values, or pay a fine of up to €1,250 and have their residency revoked.

These values include upholding people's freedoms, being a good neighbour and participating in society - for example, speaking Dutch.

The measures are part of a harder line on immigration in the Netherlands, which Lodewijk Asscher, social affairs minister, described as the "warm heart and cool head" approach.

He wrote in a letter to Dutch MPs on Friday that the government is "committed to reducing the number of refugees" and acknowledged concerns about threats to jobs and houses, and about "which culture they bring along with them".

The measures come days after Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, warned that the "massive influx" of refugees threatens the fall of Europe. The Netherlands has suggested reducing the size of the Schengen open-border agreement in early November, and on January 1 2016, the country takes on the presidency of the EU.

Mr Asscher said refugees with permission to stay would be housed in "clean but austere" housing, and had a "personal responsibility to integrate, to learn the language and find work".

To "promote self-motivation" the government is offering refugees payment for doing jobs in and around refugee centres, such as cleaning and gardening, for up to 25 hours a week and for 56c to €1.10 per hour - amounting to a maximum of justv €14 a week.

These sums - far lower than the minimum wage - are permitted because the refugees already receive state allowances if they do not have any means.

Food allowances are up to €44.60 per adult per day and €34.86 per child, with just under €13 per week for clothing and other items for people living in asylum centres. There are loans available to furnish council houses.

The Dutch government is to give extra grants to local areas to support refugees with permits to stay, of up to €2,370 per person.

Numbers of asylum seekers hit record levels in October, with 11,700 arrivals, according to Dutch national statistics office, the CBS. The government expects 60,000 refugees in 2015, about a sixth through EU quota agreements.

Nearly 1,000 people have been barred from entering France since border controls were put in place just after the Paris terror attacks, the French interior minister said.

Bernard Cazeneuve, speaking in the eastern city of Strasbourg, said that nearly 15,000 police, gendarmes and customs officials are manning France's borders, notably the borders with Belgium, where the three teams of attackers started their deadly journey, and Germany.

One-hundred-and-thirty people died in the November 13 attacks.

The borders were re-enforced in the run-up to the COP21 climate talks that start tomorrow and in the wake of the attacks.

Mr Cazeneuve noted the "very high threat level" that has yet to abate.

Besides those barred from entering France, 300 people have been placed under house arrest as part of a state of emergency.

Two dozen of the 300 are considered potential threats to public order during the two-week climate summit.

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