And suddenly the door is closed

Many refugees on their way to Western Europe have to realize after a long and troublesome journey that the situation has suddenly changed and that doors, which seemed to be open, are now closed.

On the one hand the organization and coordination of the transportation of refugees towards Western Europe has improved – at least on some sections of the journey. Novica Brankov, for instance, United Methodist pastor in Sid (Serbia), writes that in the meantime the refugees are brought by buses from the Serbian-Macedonian border to a camp near Sid. The buses wait there until a train from Croatia arrives. Then the refugees are brought directly to the railway station from where their journey continues by train. Since the UMC belongs to those organizations having a respective authorization of UNHCR, volunteers of the local church are allowed to regularly drive to this camp and to distribute food parcels directly in the buses. UNHCR and UNICEF are responsible for the distribution of clothes and blankets. This food aid of the UMC is part of the humanitarian aid activities of the ecumenical organization EHO and funded, among others, by the aid organization of the Protestant Churches in Switzerland.

On the other hand the situation in Gevgelija, on the Greek-Macedonian border, has considerably worsened. A few days ago it was decided that only refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are allowed to cross the border and to enter Macedonia. This is a result of the new EU refugee policy, and it means that all those people coming from other countries (or not being able to prove that they come from Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq) suddenly find themselves stranded – without knowing what will happen next. Some of these refugees, which were refused to enter Macedonia, have in the meantime sewed up their mouth and have gone on hunger strike. Protesting against the closed border, they sit bare-chested on the railroad tracks, in spite of the cold temperatures, watched by police officers and soldiers.

The UMC in Macedonia continues to regularly drive to Gevgelija in order to bring food, clothes, potable water, and blankets to the refugees. The leaders are also continuously exploring how they could expand their humanitarian activities – particularly in view of the upcoming winter. It is, however, beyond the possibilities of the church to open the door, which is now closed for many people.

Source: Office of Bishpo Patrick Streiff / Novica Brankov, Sid / Wilfried Nausner, Skopje
Date: November 26, 2015