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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
SKOPJE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Dozens of people are recovering from injuries after clashes between Macedonian security forces and refugees in the latest Balkan tensions that have overshadowed a European Union summit with Turkey. The tensions are rising as several countries have closed their borders to refugees who are not from war torn countries such as Syria.
Migrants fleeing war and poverty could be seen attacking police with stones. They are enraged by the sight of Macedonian soldiers erecting a fence along the border with Greece, and an accident that injured a young Moroccan man.
Macedonia’s interior ministry said at least 18 Macedonian officers were injured since Saturday, though only two needed hospital treatment. Yet, doctors from the Red Cross and other non-governmental groups say they have also been treating dozens of people for head injuries and breathing problems after Macedonian police targeted them with stun grenades and plastic bullets.
The accidental electrocution at the top of a train carriage of a 24-year-old Moroccan man, who suffered severe burns, sparked the unrest among the refugees. Frustration has been growing among refugees as Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, are letting through only those who can prove they are from “war zone” countries Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The troubles added to a sense of urgency during Sunday’s summit between the EU and Turkey, from where many refugees leave the camps, explained European Council President Donald Tusk.
“We expect a major step towards changing the rules of the ‘game’ when it comes to stemming the migration flow that is coming to the EU via Turkey.”
He said frontiers would be better protected by Europeans, and added, “We will also step our assistance to Syrian refugees in Turkey through a new refugee facility of three billion euros.” Critics have accused Turkey of blackmailing the EU by demanding more money and influence in exchange for tackling human smuggling and preventing refugees to cross the sea to Greece.
However Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu disagrees, saying closer cooperation is critical to overcome Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two. “This is not a Turkish issue, this is not a European issue,” he said.
“Turkey or the EU are not responsible for this humanitarian crisis. But the end of the day we have to act together how to deal with the refugee crisis,” the prime minister added.
He said it was important to find an international solution to the ongoing conflict in Syria. “Otherwise even we have tens of action plans if this wave continues, Turkey and the EU will have a much bigger problem in the future,” Davutoglu warned.
More than 800,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea since the beginning of the year, with the majority coming from the Middle East. The EU plans to introduce a quota system to share at least 160,000 refugees among member states, but countries such as Hungary oppose the move.
This month Hungary’s parliament approved a resolution that rejects the quota system, allowing the government to launch legal action against the EU to avoid having to take part in the scheme.
(BosNewsLife’s NEW EUROPE is a regular look at key news developments in the former Communist nations impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals. BosNewsLife is based in Budapest, Hungary).