Macedonia closes border to illegal migrants: police official

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SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia has closed its border completely to illegal migrants after Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia announced tight new restrictions on migrant entry, a police official said on Wednesday.

Thousands of migrants have built up on the Greek side of the Macedonian border. Macedonia had been allowing small numbers of Syrians and Iraqis through but stopped this after its neighbors tightened up their policies.

“We have completely closed the border,” the police official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

According to the Macedonian Interior Ministry, no migrants entered from Greece on Tuesday.

“Macedonia will act according to the decisions taken by other countries on the Balkan route,” an Interior Ministry spokesman said, referring to the main routes taken by more than a million migrants to reach the European Union over the last year.

Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia said on Tuesday they would place new restrictions on the entry of migrants. The decisions were announced hours after EU leaders outlined an agreement intended to end a mass movement to reach wealthy countries in Europe from war zones.

Croatia’s Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic told a news conference on Wednesday in Zagreb that the new decision meant reestablishing of a “regular border regime”.

“The essence of this is to firmly stick to a regular border regime and to be ready to react to any exceptional circumstances,” Orepic said. He added that talks were proceeding on return of 408 migrants, currently stranded in a camp in Croatia, to Greece.

Around 1,000 migrants remain stranded in a refugee camp on the Macedonian side of the Serbian border while more than 400 are stranded in “No Man’s Land” between Serbia and Macedonia. They refuse to go back to Macedonia and are not being allowed to cross in to Serbia.

Reporting by Kole Casule, additional reporting by Igor Ilic in Zagreb writing by Ivana Sekularac and Adrian Croft; Editing by Ralph Boulton