Croatian president visits Macedonia; migrant route remains closed

The situation on the Macedonian-Greek border is very difficult because of the migrant crisis, but the Western Balkan route will remain closed until destination countries make it clear whether they will they accept the migrants or not, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said after visiting a temporary refugee reception centre in Gevgelia, Macedonia on Wednesday.

Grabar-Kitarovic learned by talking to migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan how difficult their life in the camps was and how confused they were. "I think we all owe them answers. The European Union and individual member states must send clear messages what is to be done because this migration wave and pressure will not stop until those messages are clear," she said.

Grabar-Kitarovic stressed that the migrants wanted to travel to Germany and other countries in Western Europe and nowhere else. "The EU must take a clear stance, shape its migrant policy and accept migrants entitled to asylum, who are actually war refugees," she added.

Grabar-Kitarovic visited the Vinojug refugee transit centre together with her host, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, and Slovenian President Borut Pahor.

Ivanov noted that Macedonia was defending the EU, guarding the corridor as requested by the European Commission.

Grabar-Kitarovic and Pahor took the opportunity to express their support for the Euro-Atlantic integration of Macedonia and other Southeast European countries. "President Pahor and I want to initiate the process of Euro-Atlantic integration of not only Macedonia but also of other countries in Southeast Europe, based on fulfilment of the necessary criteria," the Croatian president said.

Commenting on the latest developments in Macedonia, Grabar-Kitarovic said that she and Pahor had spoken with the authorities and opposition leaders on Tuesday, expressing hope that their differences would be settled in accordance with the EU-brokered Przino agreement.

Ivanov on Tuesday declared an amnesty for all suspects in a 2015 wire-tapping scandal that caused a political crisis in the country. The decision triggered mass protests in the streets of Skopje just hours after its announcement, with protesters throwing eggs at Ivanov's office. Opposition leader Zoran Zaev called on Ivanov to resign, saying that his decision to halt the investigation was a coup.

Grabar-Kitarovic said that she and Pahor would submit a report to European Council President Donald Tusk and other officials involved in Brdo-Brijuni Process meetings, including Austrian President Heinz Fischer and US Vice-President Joe Biden.

Speaking of the early election in Macedonia, set for June, Grabar-Kitarovic said that this was Macedonia's internal matter, adding that "in democracies, elections are always the best and most democratic solution when a country finds itself in a situation in which there is no agreement on how to move forward."

Grabar-Kitarovic said that she and Pahor encouraged everyone in Macedonia to continue implementing reforms and overcoming obstacles to the country's prosperity.

In the Vinojug camp, Grabar-Kitarovic met with a dozen Croatian police who are deployed along the border fence, helping their Macedonian colleagues keep the order and defuse tensions. "Croatia will continue assisting Macedonia in guarding the border," she said.

About 140 migrants are currently staying in the camp. Apart from the Macedonian authorities, they are looked after by the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, the UNHCR, Danish Relief and other humanitarian organisations.

Last update: Wed, 13/04/2016 - 17:06
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