Four nations along Europe's Balkan refugee corridor shut their borders Thursday to all except those from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Their decisions are stranding thousands of men, women and children from other countries at border crossings.
Macedonia is no longer allowing in people traveling through Greece from Morocco, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Liberia, Congo or Pakistan, said Melita Sunjic, spokesperson in Serbia for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mohammed Mirzam, 30, from Afghanistan knows he will be let through, but his wife and two children, Ilia, 5, and Elena, 3, are Iranian nationals and will not.
"We're trapped," he said, from the Greek side of the border, at Idomeni. "They won't let my family across. We have no money, and we're waiting without any idea of what is to happen."
Serbia, in turn, is now only letting in migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq cross in from Macedonia. Croatia, on its border with Serbia, is only accepting people from those three countries plus Palestine, she said.
Slovenia — the next country in the chain — also said it has been turning back migrants from all countries except Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Serbia has turned back to Macedonia some 200 migrants and Macedonia has not let them in, Sunjic said.
"So they are stuck on a no man's land," she told The Associated Press.
Croatia refused 162 migrants from Morocco who had also initially been rejected by Slovenia. But Slovenia later on Thursday said it will allow those migrants to proceed toward Austria.
"This is going to be definitely a challenging situation," Sunjic said. "UNHCR does not think that there is any nation that can be excluded from international protection based on their nationalities, but each case individually should be screened and processed based on the merits of the case."
In the Greek border area of Idomeni, police said the border has essentially been shut down to all since about 8 a.m. Thursday after roughly 300 people, mostly from Iran, gathered at the crossing seeking to also be allowed through. A further 2,500 people are waiting at a camp nearby that provides temporary shelter for those heading north through the Balkans.
The partial closure of the borders could trigger huge pileups of desperate people along the Balkan corridor.
Slovenia's decision to start turning back people it considers economic migrants triggered the chain reaction along the Balkan migrant route.
Slovenian police spokesman Drago Menegalia said in recent days, "there is increased number of persons who were recognized as pure economic migrants" entering the small Alpine state from Croatia.
"These foreigners do not qualify for international protection," according to European Union laws, he said.
Slovenian officials say they will continue to allow the transit of refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq pass through on their way to Austria and other richer European states.
Serbian Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin on Thursday blamed both Slovenia and Croatia for the ban on migrants fleeing poverty rather than war.
"We have to protect our country. That is why we have applied reciprocal measures toward the people Slovenia and Croatia have no room for," Vulin said.
The Associated Press