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Refugees in Macedonia Sew Their Mouths Shut in Protest of Border Restrictions

New policies discriminate against migrants based on their nationality.

In protest of new border restrictions that block certain nationalities from “passport-free travel” to Balkan countries, a small group of refugees trapped on the Greece-Macedonia border sewed their lips closed, and many more of their fellow refugees obstructed a train line. The new border policies, which prohibit the movement of migrants who are not from Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq across Balkan borders, have incensed refugees and asylum seekers from Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, among other countries, who found themselves trapped between nations. At least three of these refugees, all Iranian men, used twine and nylon to sew together their lips in a symbolic act of dissent.

“We are people too,” a man named Ahmed told Reuters. “We are not terrorists, just ordinary people searching for a better life. We crossed thousands of miles. For what? To be stuck here?”

The refugees say they can no longer return to their home countries, where they face persecution.

“It’s difficult to communicate with them,” Gemma Gillie, a representative of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) said to The Guardian. “But they’ve been protesting silently and nothing’s happened—so that’s why they’re doing this.”

The new border restrictions have provoked the ire of a number of international human rights organizations, who say these policies victimize an already vulnerable population. On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement expressing “serious concerns” that these laws discriminate against refugees based on their ethnicities.

“Profiling asylum seekers on the basis of their alleged nationality infringes the human right of all people to seek asylum, irrespective of their nationality, and to have their individual cases heard,” Ban said in a press statement.

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