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Macedonia closes its border to migrants

The decision follows an EU decree that members must enforce the open-border Schengen agreement, stipulating that nations can bar entry to any migrants who do not plan to apply for asylum in that country.

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters
Migrants line up for food during a heavy rainfall at a makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece.

About 13,000 migrants are now stranded at the Macedonia-Greece border – wishing to travel to Europe, to reach Germany and other northern European states, but they won’t be able to.

The Balkan Route – which has served as the main transit to Europe – is now closed to any asylum seeker wishing to travel to the region.

In an bid to curb the refugee crisis in Europe, Macedonia said it will no longer let any migrants through its border with Greece, effectively blocking the Balkan route north, a day after Slovenia barred access to migrants transiting the country, the BBC reported.

The measure follows a decree made Monday at a European Union meeting in Brussels that EU members must enforce the open-border Schengen agreement, stipulating that nations can keep out any migrants who do not plan to apply for asylum in that country, according to the Voice of America.

The decision coincides with the ongoing talks between the European Union and Turkey, to finalize a plan that will ease Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II. After several months of disagreements among the 28 nations, EU leaders agreed to pay Turkey more than $3 billion in additional funds to help with the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees it is hosting.

Under the plan, all new irregular migrants (people who don’t have documentation to prove they have been granted asylum) crossing from Turkey to Greece will be returned to Turkey. In addition, the deal calls for the EU to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey, in return for every Syrian refugee Turkey takes back from Greece.

The United Nations High Commission For Refugees has expressed its concerns about the EU-Turkey deal saying the plan is contrary to international law.

"The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights," Vincent Cochetel, the Europe director for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told the Geneva press briefing in answer to questions.

"An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return to a third country is not consistent with European law, not consistent with international law," he said.

The international law for refugees – formulated during the 1951 convention – operates under the principle of "non-refoulement." Under the principle, a country is legally obliged to shelter a refugee and is not allowed to expel or return a refugee to somewhere where their life or freedom would be threatened. Simply put, a refugee seeking protection must not be prevented from entering a country.

The European Union sought the deal with Turkey following failed attempts to get Greece to close it borders. EU officials have accused Greece of failing its obligation to conduct necessary registration steps before allowing migrants to flow into Europe, in accordance with the rules governing Europe’s 26-country passport-free travel area, known as Schengen.

Over a million migrants, most of them from war-torn Syria, crossed over into Europe by sea last year in a desperate attempt to seek asylum. That number is projected to be surpassed this year, the BBC reports, with close to 30,000 already having reached Greek and Italian shores in the first three months.

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