Macedonia is a transit country along the so-called Balkan Route. Macedonia uses official readmission and pushbacks to deport people to its neighboring countries. Serbia also has an agreement with Macedonia to return people to Macedonia after they cross the border. Only few people are allowed to seek asylum (for example people considered specifically vulnerable). Asylum seekers may be housed in closed camps they cannot leave whenever they want. People may also be detained for several days if they are caught traveling with a smuggler to appear in front of the court as a witness. FRONTEX officers are present in Macedonia since April 2023. Macedonia is not member of the Dublin agreement, which means people who leave their fingerprints in Macedonia will not be sent back there when they ask for asylum in an EU member state.
After the EU-Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan Route, the 72-hour asylum law in Macedonia was abolished. Macedonia currently has the old asylum law, in other words, you can still seek asylum in the country but you do not have 72 hours to decide whether you want to go through with it, that is, whether that is your final decision. In practice, new arrivals are directly pushed back to the country where they came from and not allowed to seek asylum. After the EU-Turkey deal, Macedonia introduced a new law, according to which it can legally return people to all neighbouring countries of Macedonia (EU, NATO and CEFTA countries), while sticking to the re-admission program, that is, the given neighbouring country should accept the returnee.
In other words, crossing irregularly or without ID is basically “illegal” for all nationalities (unless the people seek asylum in Macedonia but it sometimes happens that they are denied this right).
That being said, all transport is illegal for new arrivals, including taxi, bus, trains etc. There are still people who manage to cross on foot or with smugglers, but crossing this way is very dangerous, as there is increased police presence from Macedonia and FRONTEX, since April 2023.
If a group is caught with a smuggler, the group is taken to the transit-border center Vinojug, Gevgelija where people are held for at least 2 weeks and give written testimony against the smuggler to a Public Prosecutor. Most people are then pushed back to Greece or, if asylum seekers, taken to the Center for asylum seekers in Vizbegovo, city Skopje. Although, the Criminal Code considers people smuggled by organized crime groups as victims of crime, nevertheless, the people are only used as witnesses to the cases and not considered as victims and need for certain reparations and victims’ rights are not considered by the Public Prosecutors for organized crimes or the judicial system.
Often, if the group is not with a smuggler and they get caught, they are being questioned in the nearest police station in Gevgelija and then deported after a few hours or taken to the border camp if they’re seeking asylum This depends on the police officers’ knowledge and determination to do their job properly, which is a rare. Most police officers don’t speak languages other than their native language, Macedonian or Albanian. Larger groups of 100 people or more caught in irregular migration with assistance of smugglers are processed within few hours in the camp and immediately returned to Greece.
With the closing of the borders in March, 2016, 1,750 people got stuck in Macedonia in the transit camps in Gevgelija and Tabanovce. Currently, there are approximately max. 2 arrivals per day in the open transit centre of Tabanovce and around 30 or less people are accepted in the closed transit centre of Gevgelija (but the numbers fluctuate).
The transit camp of Gevgelija remains closed and people can exit only with permission of the police officials and with escort of police or NGO staff for short time. With the arrival of FRONTEX official mission, in April 2023, more people are allowed to access the center and submit applications for asylum. The so-called de-briefing process by FRONTEX staff last approx. 2 weeks before transport is arranged to the Center for asylum seekers in Vizbegovo, city- Skopje. Vulnerable cases, such as a pregnant woman with critical pregnancy, health issues, dehydration and other medical needs are met by the camp officials and local and international NGO. etc. Currently, there are 3 local and 2 international organization within the transit-border centers on both borders: Legis, Red Cross, Macedonian Youth Lawyers Association and, IOM and La Strada as international organizations.
The conditions in these 2 transit centres are bad due to the temporal infrastructure and living capacities not being updated since 2015. However, bathrooms (separate for men and women and a special one for babies) have hot water and are kept in clean condition, canned food is served by the Red Cross. The IKEA containers are deteriorating over time, however all have air condition (around 4 people max. per container), more or less electricity and wi-fi etc.