Serbia opens five migrant camps ahead of new arrivals

A Romanian Fuchsian Airlines plane prepares to depart Bucharest Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 for the Iraqi capital of Baghdad carrying more than 1,300 migrants, as the first major flight with the plan to return hundreds of migrants to their countries of origin, began, in Bucharest, Romania. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Belgrade opened five migrant camps in Serbia’s east Friday in anticipation of fresh arrivals following the closure of several transit camps in Macedonia that were hit by a protest by the migrants.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the first flight carrying some 973 migrants bound for Baghdad left from Bucharest on Friday morning, bringing to around 4,000 the number of migrants stranded in Serbia by Macedonia’s recent travel restrictions.

Serbia is expecting more than 2,300 more, some 1,500 of whom will be brought to the transit camps in and around the capital, he said.

“These guys are in Serbia illegally, many have already had their passports stamped at Hungarian and Greek borders,” Stefanovic said. “Hungary and Greece want their passports back and they are now through Serbia.”

Vladimir Ermakov, spokesman for Serbia’s migration agency, said the first flight is expected to bring 26 people back to Russia, but a decision is yet to be made on more flights with the refugees from the western Balkans.

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis and Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos have opened talks in Brussels to coordinate the relocation of the migrants around the EU, with the goal of having 40,000 refugees relocated by the end of this year.

In Macedonia, migrant roads have again been blocked, with more refugees attempting to get to Greece. However, a travel agency in the country’s northern city of Chora, close to Greece, said it has stopped offering transport, even with a waiting list of hundreds.

About 10 migrants seeking to travel to the mainland were injured Friday when Macedonian riot police beat them with batons.

The anti-migrant crackdown comes despite the EU’s recent commitment to relocate 40,000 migrants from Greece and Italy and is the latest in a string of moves by European countries to fight illegal immigration.

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