Thousands of migrants trapped on Macedonian border
GEVGELIJA, Macedonia (AP)
Migrants stand behind the barbed wire set by Macedonian police to stop thousands of migrants entering Macedonia illegally from Greece on the border line with Greece, near the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. AP Photo/Darko VojinovicThousands of rain-soaked migrants, including many women and children, were trapped on Aug. 22 on the border between Greece and Macedonia, as Macedonian police blocked them from entering the country and heading north toward the European Union.
On Friday, police fired stun grenades and clashed with the migrants who tried to rush over the border, a day after Macedonia’s government declared a state of emergency on the frontier to stop the human tide. At least 10 people were injured in the melee.
Overnight, police allowed only small groups of families with children to cross the border by walking on railway tracks to a station in the Macedonian town of Gevgelija, where most take trains to the border with Serbia before heading further north toward EU-member Hungary.
Those who could not cross spent the rainy and chilly night in the open with little food and water. They massed close to a razor wire separating them from machine-gun toting Macedonian policemen. Some raised their babies above their heads to try to persuade the policemen to let them through.
"These men are heartless," said Yousef, a Syrian refugee who gave only his first name, as he held a little wide-eyed girl with curly hair in his arms and pointed toward the policemen. "They don’t care about our tragedy."
As heavy rain poured, some migrants took off their shirts and booed and shouted insults at the policemen in camouflage fatigues. Others took shelter inside dozens of small tents or under a few trees on a muddy field.
Both Greece and Macedonia have seen an unprecedented wave of migrants this year, most fleeing wars in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. More than 160,000 have arrived so far in Greece, mostly crossing in inflatable dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast - an influx that has overwhelmed Greek authorities and the country’s small Aegean islands. Some 45,000 crossed through Macedonia over the past two months.
Few, if any, of the migrants want to remain in Greece, which is in the grip of a financial crisis. Most head straight to the country’s northern border with Macedonia, where they cram onto trains and head north through Serbia and Hungary on their way to the more prosperous EU countries such as Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden.
Last week, there were chaotic scenes at the Gevgelija train station involving hundreds of migrants trying to board the trains.
On Saturday, Rama Kabul from Syria walked the railway track in the opposite direction from the station pleading with two Macedonian policemen pushing her back with riot shields to let her brother - who remained trapped behind the razor fence on the border - join her.
"They took me out and left him there," Kabul said with tears in her eyes. "I just want to talk to him."
Macedonian police said they started blocking the refugees on the 50-kilometer (30-mile) frontier "for the security of citizens who live in the border areas and for better treatment of the migrants."
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement that it is "particularly worried about the thousands of vulnerable refugees and migrants, especially women and children, now massed on the Greek side of the border amid deteriorating conditions."
Human Rights Watch called on Macedonian authorities to stop police violence against migrants.
"Macedonian authorities should be protecting migrants, including children and those among them who may be fleeing war and persecution, not giving the police a green light to fire at them," Emina Cerimovic, research fellow at the rights group, said in a statement.
Until now, the border has been porous, with only a few patrols on each side. Sealing it disrupts the Balkan corridor for migrants who start in Turkey, take boats to Greece or walk to Bulgaria, then make their way through Macedonia and Serbia before heading farther north.