More European Nations Are Barring the Door to Migrants

Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, January 22, 2016

The back door to Europe may be closing.

{snip} While the onset of winter has slowed the tide of newcomers, more than 2,000 a day are still arriving.

Yet, from the Greek-Macedonian border to Austria and Germany and upward to Denmark and Sweden, a domino effect is taking shape as nations in Europe suddenly move to keep more migrants out. It happens as Europe’s plan to manage a humanitarian crisis remains in disarray, and a surge of new migrants is expected as soon as March.

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{snip} Alarmed by the vast numbers, Sweden and Denmark imposed fresh controls this month on what were once open borders. In an effort to reduce the number of arriving migrants, Sweden–the nation that last year received more asylum seekers per capita than any other in Europe–is barring entry to travelers entering without proper documents.

On Tuesday, Macedonia–the key entry point for migrants leaving Greece and traveling to the rest of the European Union–shut down its southern border. That move came after a decision in November to grant transit only to Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. Macedonia briefly reopened its border Thursday, but limited passage to a few hundred nationals from those war-torn nations who pledged to seek asylum only in Austria or Germany.

The border was quickly closed again, however, amid fears that Macedonia might soon begin allowing only families and women to pass. Mersiha Smailovikj, spokeswoman for the pro-refugee group Legis, based in Skopje, said Macedonian authorities told her organization on Thursday that “single men” would not be allowed in–a policy she said would force thousands of male asylum seekers to hire smugglers or would leave them stranded in Greece.

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Stricter guidelines have also been instituted in Germany–the nation whose open-door policy made it by far the single largest destination for migrants last year. German authorities are still letting in thousands of migrants each week. But they have begun blocking “a number in the low three figures” each day. They are refusing entry, for instance, to anyone who wants to claim asylum in European countries further north, or who admit to fleeing their homelands for economic reasons.

At the same time, Chancellor Angela Merkel, the architect of Germany’s open-door policy, is under increasing pressure to do an about-face. On Tuesday, 44 lawmakers from her center-right coalition demanded she take further steps to curb new entries. {snip}

“One country after the other is turning away from the open border policy,” said Stephan Mayer, a national lawmaker from the Christian Social Union, Merkel’s coalition partner. “Germany also needs to change directions as quickly as possible when it comes to its refugee policy.”

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Neighboring Austria, meanwhile, is in the midst of an even tougher crackdown. Starting Friday, Vienna says it will block any and all migrants who are not seeking to make immediate asylum claims in Austria or Germany.

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This week, Austria is set to complete a 2.3-mile fence at a key migrant entry point on its border with Slovenia. Austrian officials on Wednesday also announced new caps on asylum seekers, but portrayed them more as “guidelines” than firm figures.

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