The Start of Selective Entry? Notes From the Balkans Refugee Route

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA — With the arrival of more than half a million refugees in Europe already this year, has the time for quotas and selective entry finally arrived? It appears so.

Some time after 6pm on Tuesday night, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia began screening refugees by nationality and only allowing entry to migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who criticized the move, who some believe actually began here in Slovenia when police reportedly turned back about one hundred Moroccan and Cote D’Ivoire nationals earlier in the week.

Regardless of who started it, the move has triggered a chain reaction that’s created islands of no-man’s lands at border crossings all the way back to the Macedonian-Greek frontier. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that 6,000 people were stuck at the Idomene post on the Greek-Macedonian border on Thursday night. With the onset of winter looming large and near, the prospects could be disastrous.

From Human Rights Watch:

Media reports say that Serbia now only admits people from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and only those in possession of ID documents or registration documents from Greece. Croatia is reported to allow only Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and Palestinians to enter the country from Serbia. Media reports and activists say that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is blocking people from Pakistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo from entering via its land border with Greece, the country that is the main point of entry into Europe. None of the states has produced any reasonable justification as to why they are singling out certain nationalities for worse treatment.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Friday morning, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said the profiling was “becoming increasingly untenable from every point of view – humanitarian, legal, and also safety related, not least in light of falling temperatures and the risks for children and others with specific needs.”

The closest thing to confirmation that this was now official Slovenian policy came in this statement by police spokesman Drago Menegalija who said in a written statement to Reuters that Slovenia would only accept migrants where “there are armed battles.”

Justifying the tightening restrictions, he wrote: “Over the past days more and more people are arriving for whom we have reason to believe that they are economic immigrants.”

“We have formally announced to Croatia that we will return a group of economic migrants.” That group consisted of 160 Moroccan nationals which Croatia refused to accept.

That’s been the talking point since Germany tightened entry restrictions earlier this month. For that rationale to head south was just a matter of time.

According to Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, more than 540,000 migrants arrived in Greece during the first ten months of this year, a 13-fold increase over the same period in 2014. More than 150,000 journeyed from Turkey to Greece just in October. That figure was less than 8,500 one year earlier. The numbers that have transited through Slovenia since October 16 is rapidly approaching 250,000.

These are big numbers, yet in theory well within what the European Union could handle given the political will. That of course isn’t there; what little there was, was already rapidly diminishing prior to last week’s ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris. Angela Merkel is already being forced to back pedal, albeit quietly, on her assertion that Germany has no upper limits on asylum seekers. Just a few months ago, the expectation was that Germany would accept some 800,000 refugees in 2015. Now, that figure is increasingly looking to be an absolute limit.

Meanwhile, reaction in US political circles in the wake of the Paris attacks has been predictably irrational, largely framed by alarm and Islamophobic fear. Describing it as childish is unfair to most children. Given the country’s expertise and resources, shameful is a better descriptor.

First, conservative governors, some thirty of them, announced that they wouldn’t be allowing Syrian refugees into their states. That was followed by a vote in the House of Representatives on Republican-sponsored legislation that would erect further barriers to Syrian and Iraqi refugees hoping to enter the country on top of the strict entry restrictions that already exist. (I don’t recall any moves to ban Saudi Arabian nationals entry after the September 11, 2001 attacks, do you?) Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that all Muslims in the U.S. should be registered in a database. He’s currently the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016.

The outrage is in reaction to Barack Obama’s pledge to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Ten thousand. That’s about one-tenth of the crowd that fills a Big-10 or Pac-12 football stadium on any given Saturday. Nearly the number that Germany is taking in every day. And a fraction of the 1.2 million that Syria’s neighbor Lebanon, a country one one-thousandth the size of the U.S. and infinitely poorer, is currently hosting.

Some have even promised to move to Canada if the refugees are allowed to enter. Presumably they’ll join those who promised to move north of the border after Obama’s first election, after the Affordable Care Act was enacted, after Obama’s re-election and after same-sex marriage became the law of the land.

Maybe they’ll wind up living in the same neighborhood with some of the 25,000 refugees that Canada says it will take in before the end of this year*.

In the meantime, winter’s finally coming to the Balkans.


Today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 686th straight (!!), is of a young Syrian girl waiting to board a bus at a transit camp in Brezice, Slovenia, on 21 October 2015. She’s flanked by her older brother behind her and her father, who’s in front of her carrying a large duffle bag, an apropos image for Trio, this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge Theme.


* Correction 21 Nov 2015 22:30 GMT to note that Canada has agreed to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of this year, not next year as originally reported. I regret the error.


  1. What the United States is doing is shameful, and to read some comments on some of the news articles about this shows the extent of the hate that exists here….and then they all go to church on Sunday.
    Beautiful photo, Bob.

  2. This is a horribly complex issue, and part of the complexity is, of course, the ongoing wars in the areas people are fleeing, many of which have to do with our efforts or assistance. I do not see an end in sight, unfortunately.

  3. I can only imagine the surprise/shock/horror from those fleeing the U.S. to Canada when they realize the latter is scheduled to receive 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

  4. Great reporting, as usual, thanks for your work. May I humbly correct the note that 25,000 refugees will be entering Canada next year, as it’s actually 25,000 by the end of this year. To say that this short timeline is a challenge for Canada would be an understatement, and not just in terms of logistics. Right now, while everyone is in the throes of post-Paris grief and fear, Canadians are either simmering with fear or trying hard not to simmer with fear, about the screening process of 25,000 people. And there have been pockets of violence– including the burning of a mosque, and a few Muslim women wearing the niqab were attacked.

  5. Well, this about sums up my country: “Meanwhile, reaction in US political circles in the wake of the Paris attacks has been predictably irrational, largely framed by alarm and Islamophobic fear. Describing it as childish is unfair to most children. Given the country’s expertise and resources, shameful is a better descriptor.”

  6. THIS is why photojournalism is important, necessary, and needed. For eyes in these places, for starting discussion, public discourse, and to get people thinking. Thank you for being that photographer!

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More Stories
Recuerdo Profundo by Jimenez Deredia
Scab Cab Ride