November 22, 2015 / 2:51 PM / in 2 years

Conditions worsen for migrants denied passage across the Balkans

Migrants react in front of a Greek police, as they wait to cross the border from Greece to Gevgelija, Macedonia November 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

GEVGELIJA, Macedonia (Reuters) - Conditions for hundreds of migrants stuck on Balkan borders worsened on Sunday as temperatures dropped and a first smattering of snow fell.

Countries along the Balkan route taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking refuge in western Europe last week began filtering the flow, granting passage only to those fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The move has stranded a growing number of Iranians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and other nationalities from Asia and Africa.

A group of Iranians, blocked from entering Macedonia from Greece by barbed wire and rows of police, erected a banner on Sunday announcing a hunger strike. Some blocked the railway line running between the two countries.

“We won’t go back to Iran,” one man had scrawled on cardboard. A light rain began to fall, while further north along the route snow announced the arrival of winter.

“We are people too,” said an Iranian man who gave his name as Ahmed. “We are not terrorists, just ordinary people searching for a better life. We crossed thousands of miles. For what? To be stuck here?”

Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia say they took the step to begin filtering the flow after Slovenia, which is part of Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel, said it would no longer admit what it called “economic migrants”.

The new measure coincides with rising concern over the security risk of the chaotic and often unchecked flow of humanity into Europe in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris by Islamist militants in which 130 people died.

It has emerged that two suicide bombers involved in the attacks took the same trail, arriving by boat in Greece and then traveling north across the Balkans. Most of the attackers, however, were citizens of France or Belgium.

Aid agencies have warned that those denied passage and the right to seek asylum risk being left in limbo without sufficient aid against the winter.

On the Macedonian-Greek border, hundreds of people were stranded in dozens of tents behind barbed wire, as Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans were filtered through fences and granted passage.

“We are not terrorists. We just go for a better life. Please let us go,” read another banner.

One man denied entry stripped to the waist and wrote on his chest, “Shoot us or save us.”

Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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