Refugee crisis: Stranded Iranian asylum seekers sew their mouths shut in protest at Greek-Macedonian border

Hundreds of asylum seekers have been protesting for four days over tighter immigration rules

Lizzie Dearden
Monday 23 November 2015 15:28 GMT
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A migrant sits in no-man's land with his mouth sewn shut during a protest near the village of Idomeni at the Greek-Macedonian border, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.
A migrant sits in no-man's land with his mouth sewn shut during a protest near the village of Idomeni at the Greek-Macedonian border, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. (AP)

A group of Iranian refugees have sewn their mouths shut and gone on hunger strike at the border between Greece and Macedonia as hundreds of asylum seekers continue to be trapped.

It is the fourth straight day of protests near the village of Idomeni, where controversial new immigration policies brought in after the Paris attacks are blocking migrants all countries apart from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iranians, Moroccans and Pakistanis were among hundreds of refugees sitting in front of border police and trying to block train lines between Greece and Macedonia.

An Iranian refugee sews his mouth shut during a protest near the village of Idomeni at the Greek-Macedonian border, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.
An Iranian refugee sews his mouth shut during a protest near the village of Idomeni at the Greek-Macedonian border, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. (AP)

At least six Iranian men sewed each other’s mouths shuts in protest at the new limits on migration and wrote “Iran” and “freedom” on their faces and chests.

One man joining the hunger strike, a 34-year-old electrical engineer named Hamid, told Reuters he wanted to go to “any free country in the world,” adding: “I cannot go back. I will be hanged."

Photos showed another group of Bangladesh men at the protest, who had stripped to the waist and written slogans, including "shoot us, we never go back", on their chests in red paint.

Many of those arriving in Idomeni are attempting to take the Balkans route to western Europe after reaching Greek islands on smugglers’ boats from Turkey.

Migrants and refugees from Iran with their mouths sewn shut sit on railway tracks as they wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border on 23 November
Migrants and refugees from Iran with their mouths sewn shut sit on railway tracks as they wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border on 23 November (AFP/Getty Images)

But the journey is getting longer and harder with tightened security checks and waning political support for welcoming hundreds of thousands of people risking their lives to flee conflict and persecution.

Last week, Slovenia declared it would only grant passage to those fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and that all others would be deemed “economic migrants” and sent back.

That prompted others on the route — Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia — to do the same, leaving growing numbers of families stranded in tents and around camp fires on Balkan borders with winter approaching.

Rights groups have questioned the policy, warning asylum should be granted on merit and not on the basis of nationality.

“To classify a whole nation as economic migrants is not a principle recognised in international law,” said Rados Djurovic, director of the Belgrade-based Asylum Protection Centre. “We risk violating human rights and asylum law.”

Investigators say two suicide bombers who carried out the Paris attacks reached France via Greece by posing as refugees, although their true identities are unknown and all other attackers identified so far were French and Belgian.

Police say 2,900 people crossed the border into Macedonia in the 24 hours before 6am today, down from more than 6,000 on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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