A spokesman for 700 Roma refugees stranded on the Macedonian border says they are prepared to die where they are – if refused the right to cross into Greece.
Doctors are already warning that, without proper shelter, food, water and medical care, deaths could occur at any time among the refugees which include 270 children, newly born babies and ten pregnant women.
For almost two weeks the Kosovo Roma refugees have been huddling together on a bare plateau, without tents, blankets or fuel. Nights are cold in the mountains, while days have alternated been hot sun and heavy rain.
‘We’re within a few steps of the frontier,’ Romnews correspondent Martin Demirovski reports. ‘But if we try to move forward we’re beaten back by the soldiers.’
According to Médecins du Monde-Greece, which visited the makeshift camp last week, many people are suffering from bronchitis, respiratory diseases, diarrhoea and other serious infections. Under the appalling conditions, much of the sickness is now life-threatening, particularly for infants.
Many elderly are exhausted and finding it hard to cope with the lack of elementary hygiene facilities. Some bread has been distributed by the UNHCR – the very agency which closed their camp in Skopje on 31 March.
The Macedonian Helsinki Committee has urged Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski to waive a visa agreement and give priority to the right of the refugees to leave the country. However, despite appeals by many Roma and other NGOs, the border remains closed to them.
‘Our case before the Court of Human Rights must succeed,’ commented Roma National Congress (RNC) chairman Rudko Kawczynski. ‘But must children die before Mr Crvenkovski puts human rights ahead of his border politics?’
Asmet Elezovski, an RNC activist, who went to Medjitelija with the refugees and was among those injured, says there is an urgent need to increase pressure on both the Macedonian government and the EU.