Chaotic scenes as migrant crisis reaches Macedonia doorsteps
GEVGELIJA (Macedonia) - Some 2,000 mostly-Syrian refugees spent a rainy night stranded in no-man's land between Greece and Macedonia as hundreds more began arriving Saturday on their way to western Europe.
The refugees and migrants, who have been there since Thursday, spent the night sleeping on the ground despite heavy rain and temperatures which fell sharply during the night.
Army troops were deployed throughout the forested hills which line the 50-kilometre (30-mile) border, army spokesman colonel Mirce Gjorgoski said, giving no further details.
Macedonia on Thursday declared a state of emergency and sealed off the border for 24 hours.
But after clashes between police and migrants that left at least eight refugees slightly injured, Skopje decided to allow a limited number of refugees in to continue their journey.
Late on Friday, Macedonian police began allowing groups of several dozen to cross and take a train to the north in a bid to reach Western Europe.
Figures from the UN refugee agency show thousands of migrants, most of them from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, have been pouring into Greece on a weekly basis with the aim of travelling through Macedonia and Serbia to reach the European Union.
Those stranded inside no-man's land sat on the ground in desperation, with some of the children in tears. Other people wandered through piles of rubbish, gazing towards the Macedonian border.
During the night, police doubled the barbed wire fence at the border, as some of the refugees pleaded with them, shouting "Help us!"
"It rained and many people couldn't protect themselves. One mother lost her daughter and was calling for her all through the night," said Samer Moin, a 49-year-old doctor from Syria who cross from Turkey to the Greek island of Halki, before managing to reach the Macedonian border.
"I've been here for days. I want go to Norway," he said.
Meanwhile hundreds more migrants could be seen headed towards the border from the Greek side, coming on foot or arriving on buses from the direction of the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki, a reporter said.
In the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija, five trains, each capable of holding between 100 and 700 passengers, were scheduled to run on Saturday with the service laid on exclusively for refugees and migrants, a railway official said.
It takes some four hours by train to reach Tabanovce on Macedonia's northern border with Serbia, which lies some 180 kilometres (110 miles) away.
At the station, several hundred people could be seen waiting for the next train, some of whom had set up small tents in a bid to shelter from the rain.