Interviews and Speeches

Interview of MFA Nikola Poposki for Radio WNYC

Date: 17 March 2016 

Journalist: John Hockenberry

John Hockenberry: What is this pressure on you? What is it that you’re being pressured to do and what capacities does Macedonia have here stuck in the center?

FM Poposki: We have seen some 800,000 migrants crossing through Macedonia, going from Greece to other Western European nations. Some of them are Syrians; we also have Iraqis, Afghans and many other Asian and African nations.

It hasn’t stopped in 2016, the problem is that many receiving countries, up in the north, have difficulties to accept as many migrants as they have last year, on one side, and on the other side Greece is under tremendous pressure from illegal crossings, people coming from Turkey and landing in Greece. Right now we have to make a choice at the European level whether the same kind of flows of migrants is going to continue in an uncontrolled manner from Greece to Macedonia, Balkans countries and up to Germany or if there will be some measures on controlling these flows.

John Hockenberry: Would you say that is impossible for Macedonia to criticize the EU, because you are trying to be a member of EU?

FM Poposki: It is a pretty difficult situation, I would say; since we do aspire to become an EU member state, on the other side, I don’t think that this is time to allocate any kind of guilt, whether to the EU or its member states or Turkey. Pretty much everyone has a difficult job, and I think the challenge is to strike the right balance between providing humane treatment to all these people that are fleeing conflict zones from one side, and on the other side make sure that this a sustainable system because the one we have seen in 2015 is definitely not a sustainable one.

John Hockenberry: I want you to listen to the recording of a migrant at the Macedonian border, this is from the London Daily Mail’s video of this crisis and this person is talking about how their family, his family is all over the place and that there’s no option to stay in one particular place because the idea is to try to reunite the families. Listen… His wife is in Austria, he’s there, he can’t stay indefinitely in Macedonia, what can you do to help someone like this?

FM Poposki: Eventually, what is unfortunate is that there are a number of countries north of Macedonia that have decided to close their borders to migrants. For example, Austria has set daily quotas based on the fact that in 2016 they said that they cannot accept more than 37,500 migrants. Last year was pretty devastating since they’ve accepted 90,000 and Germany is under similar kind of pressure with 1.1 million migrant, Sweden and all the others country that have been receiving.

For Macedonia the choice is simple, we can either observe people transiting through our country so going from Greece to Austria and Germany and then this migrant would be allowed to get in Austria and be reunited with his family or take the measures that EU is imposing on us and that is Syria’s border control, going through the registration process and identifying those that can be legitimate asylum seekers in one of the European member states.

John Hockenberry: Minister Poposki looking back in recent history, I have to say that Macedonia has been the staging area for migrant crises in the Balkans, migrant crisis involving Kurds in the Middle East and in Turkey, migrant crisis now involving Syrians and Iraqis. All of these conflicts you had nothing whatsoever to do with yet they come directly to your doorstep and your ability to solve them is not something you’ve been given much help with. It seems to me, there’s a lot of blame to go around here for your predicament from the United States all the way straight through the regime in Damascus. How do you view this historical reputation of Macedonia as a place, almost a dumping ground for these persistent conflicts around the world?

FM Poposki: We have been tested probably to the largest extent during the Yugoslav crisis when we’ve seen roughly a quarter of our population in refugees and migrants from other places in Former Yugoslavia. You’ve mentioned all the other migration waves; the current one has put us under a test of seeing some 800,000 people crossing Macedonia over a year. We have shown that humanity is something that Macedonians share as a value so we try to help people in difficulty and we also have learnt the lesson that you cannot always rely on someone else to provide you with assistance to deal with your own problems. So we have mobilized our own forces and we’ve tried to finance these efforts through our proper means. Eventually, the European Union or the United States and other partners are going to assist this effort but unless each one of us takes their own responsibility on their own territory, no one is going to be able to deal with this crisis.