Most nations along Europe’s refugee corridor abruptly shut their borders Thursday to those not coming from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, leaving thousands desperately seeking a better life in the continent stranded at Balkan border crossings.
The overnight decision triggered the domino effect that both asylum-seekers and European nations had feared given the record number of people fleeing to Europe this year, and reflected new worries about possible terrorists coming in with the refugees.
Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia weren’t allowing in so-called economic migrants whose countries aren’t shattered by war. To cross, asylum-seekers needed to display identity documents to prove that they are from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq — which many of them could not, even if they did come from those states.
“We’re extremely worried about the latest developments and fear that people will be stranded without any assistance, shelter and food just as winter sets in,” said Stephane Moissaing, the Doctors Without Borders head in Serbia.
The partial closure of the borders could trigger huge pileups of desperate people along the Balkan corridor that has seen hundreds of thousands cross as they head to wealthy EU states, mostly Germany. Although Syrians are the biggest group among the asylum-seekers, tens of thousands of people fleeing poverty — such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis or Sri Lankans — have also joined the surge.