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Macedonian Leader Says He May Shut Down Balkan Migrant Route

Numbers And Misery Swell On Greece-Macedonia Border
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WATCH: Numbers And Misery Swell On Greece-Macedonia Border

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has said in an interview with a German newspaper that he may shut down the so-called Balkan route for migrants altogether later this year.

Ivanov told Der Spiegel in an interview published February 29 that when Austria reaches its limit of 37,500 migrant entries, Macedonia will close its border with Greece, effectively shutting down the Balkan route to northern Europe used by hundreds of thousands of migrants.

"When Austria reaches its limit, it will happen," he said, suggesting that could occur very soon, "perhaps right at this moment."

He added: "We need a political decision now. Soon it will be too late. The Austrian ceiling of 37,000 will be reached."

The interview was published on a day when Macedonia used tear gas and stun guns to repel an attempt by several hundred migrants to ram through the barbed-wire fence on its border with Greece.

WATCH: Migrants Try To Storm Greek-Macedonian Border

Migrants Try To Storm Greek-Macedonian Border
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Macedonia already has imposed sharp cuts in the number of migrants it will allow to pass through to countries further north. It is rejecting Afghan migrants entirely and allowing transit for up to 580 people a day from other countries, mostly Syria and Iraq.

Ivanov's remarks reflect the view of most Balkan leaders that new restrictions they are placing on migrants are justified by curbs imposed by Austria, the follow-on destination of most of the migrants attempting to pass through.

Austria recently said it would accept no more than 80 asylum claims per day and cap the number of people seeking to cross its territory at 37,500 this year.

Some days, Macedonia, which has applied to join the European Union, has not allowed any migrants to enter from Greece, leaving thousands of people stranded in Greece.

Ivanov defended his government's border restrictions despite criticism from the United Nations, European Union, Amnesty International, and others that it violates international laws governing the treatment of asylum seekers.

"We can't wait until Brussels makes a decision. We have made our own decisions. In times of crisis, every country must find its own solutions," he said, adding that most Balkans leaders are taking their cue from Austria.

"The closing of the border to Greece was merely a reaction. Whenever a country to the north closes its borders, we follow suit," he said. "Macedonia made it clear that it would only be able to tolerate 2,000 migrants at a time making their way through the country. Macedonia may not be in the EU, but it is still behaving more responsibly than some EU member states."

"If we had waited for EU guidelines, Macedonia would have been flooded with refugees," he said.

Ivanov acknowledged that if Macedonia closes its door to migrants, they likely will seek to go through Albania or some other route.

"No one wants to stay in Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia," he said. "The goal of the refugees is Germany. They will find a path there. A dangerous path."

With reporting by AFP and Macedonian Information Agency
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