22 Aug 2015

Macedonia refugee emergency: thousands run across border

Thousands of migrants broke through a police line in Macedonia as the government struggles to control the border. Many are still stranded in “dangerous” conditions.

Hundreds of migrants and refugees on Macedonia’s southern border with Greece broke through police lines, running through fields into the Balkan country after many spent days stranded in no-man’s land.

A reporter saw police lob two stun grenades but their lines broke and several thousand people made a dash for Macedonian territory.

Huge crowds have been squared up against police on the Greek/Macedonian border as they try to break through to continue their journey in Europe.

Most of them Syrian refugees, the crowd of several thousand shouted “Help us!” at lines of riot police behind razor wire, stationed on the border since Thursday when Macedonia declared a state of emergency and closed the border.

Previously Macedonia had allowed migrants to cross, but the sheer numbers have left the government struggling to cope.

600 people were allowed through overnight, packed onto a train at the Gevgelija railway station and sent north to Serbia, the last stop en route to Hungary and Europe’s borderless Schengen zone.

More could be seen arriving by foot on the Greek side as morning broke.

On Friday, Macedonian police fired tear gas and stun grenades to drive back angry crowds of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others seeking passage through the impoverished Balkan country, the latest flash point in a crisis that has dragged the conflicts of the Middle East to Europe’s doorstep.

Few if any migrants wish to remain in Greece or Macedonia, they are hoping to reach richer northern European countries,

Families gathered around open fires in fields soaked by rain overnight. They had no access to shelter and little food or water.

“Last night so dangerous, so bad, we are all human, it is not matter Syria, Afghanistan, we are Pakistan, everyone is human,” Halid, a migrant from Afghanistan said.

He went on: “Macedonian police is not doing good with us, they are hitting us and the rain is come and we all have, look – children, we have big problems.”

One Afghan couple lost their two children in the chaos, the girl has been returned to them but they are still missing the six-year-old boy: “I need my son” said Mohammed Yasin.

Police said the next train would leave in several hours. For weeks, the railway station has been a scene of chaos. Around 1,500 – 2,000 migrants per day had been attempting to cross the border in recent weeks and have tried to board trains going north, leading to wrestling crowds and small children squeezing through open carriage windows.

State of emergency

On Friday, the United Nations refugee agency has urged Macedonia to allocate more space for migrants in its side of the border. More refugees are expected to arrive at the border from Greece, where a record 50,000 reached Europe by boat from Turkey in July alone.

In July 2015 a record 107,000 migrants arrived in Europe according to border agency Frontex, an increase of 35 per cent on the total arrivals in June, and three times more than arrived in July 2014.

Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said on Wednesday “this is an emergency situation for Europe that requires all EU member states to step in and support the national authorities who are taking on a massive number of migrants at its borders.”