Interviews and Speeches

FM Nikola Poposki interview for “Kanal 5”

Date: 4 March 2016

Reporter: GjorgjiTomic



The migrant issue is an issue that concerns all of Europe. Recently our country was visited by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who was expected to suggest some kind of solution on behalf of Europe, and yet we haven’t heard a concrete answer on how to exit this crisis. What are your opinions?

Poposki: The European Union tabled a solution overseveral months ago… Solutions exist since the summits of November and December. The main problem is that even these solutions on the table do not seem to work in practice. The principle factor was Turkey, the border with Greece, external border control and establishing hotspots. Numbers in Macedonia are still too large for us to conclude that these measures are being implemented in Greece. At this point, the majority of stakes are placed on the summit to be held on Monday between the EU and Turkey. The summit is also expected to result in Turkey assuming the primary burden for curbing additional crossings to Greece, as well as returning migrants who have arrived in Europe on economic grounds, as a prerequisite for further handling additional migrant waves arriving in Europe.

The impression is that no one wants the burden of this migrant crisis on their back. On the other hand, it seems that Europe wants to passa larger part of the burdendown to the Balkan countries. We’ve heard the statement from Croatia where Schengen is also mentioned. Can we assume that Europe is considering such a solution, to save itself from this problem?

Poposki: For some time now, it’s been called into question whether Europe can function in conditions in which it cannot control the external borders and in which the readmission agreements, that is, directing migrants and refugees from one country to another, do not function. For us, of course, the most delicate matter is that we are caught in the middle between the southern and northern part of the European Union and we have migrants coming from an EU member state transiting our country. It would be unreasonable to expect that Macedonia will solve the problems that Greece cannot solve with the aid of the EU. But we are, nonetheless, part of the solution and we will continue to provide humane and safe transit through our territory for migrants who will be admitted in the Northern European countries.

Is pressure being put on Macedonian authorities to allow the construction of a camp on our territory? We’ve seen that Brussels has several times now provided financial support to help us deal with this problem.

Poposki: It is not Macedonia’s decision whether a camp will be built or not. We have clearly stated on several occasions that we have a capacity for up to 2,000 migrants transiting through the Republic of Macedonia and that these capacities are positioned on our southern and northern border. You cannot expect Macedonia to shelter migrants coming from a safe territory. Greece is no less safe than Macedonia. You cannot expect Macedonia to house migrants that cannot be housed by 28 EU member states. I believe it’s a fair approach.

If we consider statements coming from Europe, we could say that chaos reigns in the midst of EU members, especially if we hear statements from the Visegrad Group and what was officially said by Brussels. What is your impression? You say that a conference on precisely this issue will be held next week. Where is the exit from this migrant crisis?

Poposki: It would be naïve to believe that problems will be solved next week. Expectations are high that Turkey will take on a large part of the burden by receiving a part of the migrants that will be send back from those that have already arrived in Germany and other Western European countries and that it will work on curbing the influx of new migrants. Turkey, however, has been put in a very difficult position because for four or five years now it has been giving the high sign that there are 2.5 millions of migrants on its territory. Turkey feels that is has been carrying too great a burden for too long without any assistance. We would be naïve if we now believe that this can be solved in the short run. This problem will continue to stretch outoverthe following months, perhaps even years, but, it will be in our interest to strengthen cooperation, especially with our southern and northern neighbours and to look for a solution where the burden will be shifted to the EU’s external borders, that is, Greece and cooperation with Turkey as a key country. There is one factor which we definitely cannot influence and that is the stabilisation of the Middle East. As long as there is conflict in the Middle East we will be susceptible to large migrant waves coming towards Europe.

In context of what you are saying that this issue will linger and that it will persistthrough the next several months, perhaps even years, what was agreed with your counterparts concerning registration of migrants on this route to Europe is being done precisely in Macedonia. We are aware that with the weather warming up, the wave will get more massive. Do you expect that pressure will be putright on our border crossings?

Poposki: In an ideal solution this registration would be done at the EU’s external border. That is Greece. In practice, everyone arriving at the Greek islands should be registered. Those that are economic migrants should be immediately send back and only refugees fleeing from war should be allowed upwards. This is not happening. If it did, we wouldn’t have had a situation of over tens of thousands of migrants transiting through Greece and arriving at our border. That is why the system of control implemented at our border is the second best solution, that is, the least bad solution. Right now, we have an agreement with other countries on the route that the registration carried out on the Macedonian border and the identification of asylum seekers will be valid in all countries found higher upon the route. Even this rule encounters problems, because we have a certain number of migrants being sent back. Until we straighten out this situation that anyone registered in Macedonia can continue upwards, Macedonia shouldn’t assumea burden and responsibility greater than what itcan bear at the moment.