Until the closure of the “Balkan Route” in March 2016, several thousand exhausted, exhausted, starving and frozen people from the war-torn states entered Greece daily in Macedonia. Ljubinka Brasnarska and Christian Mihajlovski from UNHCR, tell their experiences
“In my memory, I will always have a scene when a father with two underage children tried to cross the border between Idomeni and Gevgelija. In the biggest mess of the refugee crisis, on the other side there were thousands of people who feverishly wanted to reach the Vinojug camp. We were all there: UNHCR, police, army, volunteers, activists, journalists. In that mess, the girl managed to cross, but dropped her father and brother, who remained on the Greek side. All three of them began to cry. I will never forget the face of my father. His whole world collapsed, he was in despair, lost his daughter in front of his eyes, he was probably afraid that he would never see her again. The drama lasted fifteen minutes, the father with superhuman superhuman efforts managed to break through, cross the border and embrace the daughter, who was waiting for her and did not want to continue her own way to the Reception Center. When they reunited, they disappeared as if they had not been seen for years. The father was overwhelmed by the situation and dismayed, so the medical teams intervened”.
This is one of the most remarkable experiences of Christian Mihajlovski from the UNHCR Legal Department, who spent days, weeks and months on the field at the southern border in the most critical moments of the refugee crisis that hit Europe. Until the closure of the “Balkan Route” in March 2016, several thousand exhausted, depleted, starving and frozen people from the war-torn states, from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a smaller number of citizens of poor African countries. Young, old, men, women and children pack their lives in a travel bag and set off on a long and uncertain road in the hope of reaching richer European countries. According to the estimates, around one million refugees traveled through Macedonia, who, on foot, with help of smugglers, bicycles, and eventually organized with trains, traveled from Gevgelija to Tabanovce and then to Serbia.
“Colleagues and I remember all sorts of situations: the most tragic ones like the deaths along the railway line, the drowning in the swollen Suva Reka, separated families, people who lost their way … to the most beautiful ones, such as the birth of children, birthdays, some of the refugees will make us a traditional dish from their countries. There were moments when they cried, so to situations when they played and sang”, Mihajlovski recalls.
Today, things are not far from us as desperate as they were in autumn 2015 until the spring of last year. The “Balkan Route” is officially closed, although the war in Syria and Iraq has not been completed before, causing daily crossings at the southern border.
“The fact is that the lack of legal and safe routes for refugees contributes to greater desperation in them and they require different ways to cross the borders. Some with the help of smugglers, others fall into the hands of traffickers, and others are on their own. The whole situation is dangerous and risky primarily for them. They do not seek help from anyone, no matter how skilled in obtaining asylum. Earlier, while the route was open, that is, through the registration of refugees, we knew exactly who, when and where it crosses the border, and now not. From January to September this year, we noticed 12,681 people who have migrated irregularly with the notion that it is possible for a person to try two or more times”,explains Ljubinka Brašnarska, PR manager at the UNHCR.
At present, about 50 refugees reside in the Reception Centers in Gevgelija and Tabanovce, as well as in the Asylum Seekers’ Center in Vizbegovo. Most of them hope to cross into Serbia and then to the west. Remaining in Macedonia is not an option.
“From the beginning of the year to the end of September, 105 applications for asylum were submitted. Of these, four were granted, with subsidiary protection, mainly for unaccompanied minors. The procedure itself lasts for months, so most of the refugees do not remain so long to hear the decision”, says Brašnarska.
The UNHCR recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry od interior and assist in the development of an asylum database that will be helpful to all, as it will speed up the procedure, the state will have better records, and will provide refugees with better and more effective protection. In addition, the UNHCR is actively working to solve the refugee problem of the Kosovo crisis, which has not returned to their fireplace for almost twenty years, nor did it become naturalized. The third major activity is the care for stateless persons and personal documents that can not receive education, health care, social assistance, nor can they contribute to society through employment and active participation.
As for refugees from the war zones, they will flee as long as there are conflicts, so it is not possible to predict whether and to what extent a new refugee wave will “sparkle”.
“Since this refugee crisis, the world has learned that states are connected and can not be expected if there is a border problem with Europe, so that it does not move to its territory. I believe that we have established good coordination with state institutions and organizations, and together we managed to meet more than 800,000 refugees who passed through the country. Nobody was thirsty and hungry. The UNHCR also helped the state to conduct full refugee registration. In addition, we work with partners from the non-governmental sector, with whom we jointly try to raise awareness about the refugees”, explains Brašnarska.
This year the action “Refuge Now – Man Always” continues, through which it is working on raising awareness in the society and helping people who have fled from war and passed the Golgotha to provide a peaceful dream for themselves and their loved ones.