Closed Borders: The impact of border closures on people on the move, with a focus on women and children in Serbia and Macedonia

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In 2015 there was a huge increase in the number of migrants, including refugees, arriving in Greece and travelling along the Balkan route on their way to destination countries further north. According to UNHCR, more than one million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2015. This report looks at the protection concerns of people on the move, especially women and children, in Macedonia and Serbia following the closure of the Balkan route. It is based on research and information gathered by Oxfam and its partners: the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights and Atina in Serbia, and the Macedonian Young Lawyer Association and Open Gate/ La Strada in Macedonia. The report includes recommendations on how to protect and promote their safety, dignity and human rights. 
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  Programme Report on the impact of the borders closures on people on the move, with a focus on Women and Children in Serbia and Macedonia, September 2016  CLOSED BORDERS 2  INTRODUCTION AND METHODOLOGY  This paper provides an analysis of the protection concerns that people on the move, especially women and children, face in Macedonia 1  and Serbia following the closure of the Balkan route and presents recommendations on how to protect and promote their safety, dignity and human rights.This report was conducted by Oxfam and its partners: the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Atina in Serbia, and the Macedonian Young Lawyer Association (MYLA) and Open Gate/ La Strada in Macedonia (see the Annex for more information on the partners). It is based on background research, information gathered by Oxfam partners in the course of their eld work, interviews with women and focus group discussions, and meetings with NGO and civil society representatives. The report has been funded by UN Women as part of the project “Migrants and Refugee Crisis in the Western Balkan Countries” implemented by Oxfam and its partners. The information and views expressed in the report are those of Oxfam and its partners. 3 SERBIA AND MACEDONIA, SEPTEMBER 2016  2015 saw a massive increase in the number of migrants, including refugees, arriving in Greece and travelling along the Balkan route on their way to destination countries further North. According to UNHCR, in 2015, over one million refugees and migrants had crossed the Mediterranean. The vast majority of sea crossings, 856,723 were from Turkey to Greece, which was over four times the number of arrivals in 2014. Approximately half of the new arrivals were from Syria, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. 2  Almost all continued from Greece along the Balkan route towards destination countries in Central and Northern Europe.While in past years the large majority of people on the move were men, the number of women and children has been increasing since 2015. This trend has continued in 2016, with women and children making up over half of the new arrivals in Greece and along the Balkan route. 3 Since 2015, the number of unaccompanied minors (UAM) has also grown substantially. The increasing numbers of people transiting placed severe pressures on countries along the Western Balkan route. Countries were overwhelmed, with their initial responses being reactive, slow and ad-hoc. During the rst half of 2015, persons transiting Macedonia and Serbia risked being arrested and/or pushed back across the border, having to sleep in the open with no or limited assistance and being subject to abuse and exploitation by smugglers and criminal groups. The situation in Macedonia was particularly dangerous, as migrants were considered illegal and, if apprehended, were detained for long periods in inhuman and degrading conditions. Deaths and accidents occurred as people were travelling along the railroad tracks in an attempt to cross the country as quickly as possible. 4 In response to wide-spread criticism and as Germany announced the opening of its borders to refugees from Syria, Western Balkan countries (including Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia), increased their coordination along the Balkans route and adopted a more pragmatic policy of allowing people to move through. Whilst much more could have been done, countries did take some measures to make more train or bus services available to help facilitate people’s journeys. In August 2015, in Macedonia and Serbia, temporary registration centres were set up at entry points, where asylum seekers and those transiting had their data recorded and were issued with a document which allowed them to legally stay in the country for 72 hours to lodge an asylum application. Although the situation had improved, there continued to be problems with the provision of information and adequate assistance, the identication of vulnerable persons as well as exploitation by smugglers. From September 2015, the migration route shifted to Croatia, as Hungary constructed a fence along its border and, in October 2015, closed its borders with Serbia. The situation along the Balkan route changed signicantly from late October/November 2015 onward, as the main destination countries in the EU (Germany, Sweden and Austria) began to scale back on their welcome policy and as the EU began to engage with Turkey in an effort to stem the inux of irregular migrants. 5 Afraid that they would be “stuck” with large numbers of migrants, for which they were ill-prepared as they continued to consider themselves transit countries, the countries along the Balkan route introduced selective entry policies. Thus, from November 19, 2015 onward only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans were allowed to cross from Greece into Macedonia, which BACKGROUND AND CURRENT SITUATION CLOSED BORDERS 4
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