Saturday 10 December 2016

Thousands of migrants trapped in no-man's land on Macedonian border

Published 22/08/2015 | 12:46

Migrants hold up an injured individual after clashes with Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni on the Greek -Macedonian border on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants hold up an injured individual after clashes with Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni on the Greek -Macedonian border on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of migrants remain trapped in a no-man's-land between Greece and Macedonia as police continue to block the border.

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Macedonian police let only small groups of families with children cross by walking to a railway station in the town of Gevgelija, where most take trains to the border with Serbia before heading towards EU-member Hungary.

Those who could not cross, including many women with children, spent the wet, chilly night in the open.

Police fired stun grenades and clashed with the migrants who tried to rush over the border on Friday, a day after Macedonia's government declared a state of emergency on the frontier to stop the human tide.

Migrants have massed close to barbed wire separating them from machine-gun toting Macedonian policemen at the border.

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 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.

Migrants hold up an injured individual after clashes with Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni on the Greek -Macedonian border on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants hold up an injured individual after clashes with Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni on the Greek -Macedonian border on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants wait to pass the Greek-Macedonian border guarded by Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants clash with Macedonian police at the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants attempt to pass the Greek-Macedonian border guarded by Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
A migrant girlclashes with a Macedonian police officer near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
A migrants woman with childrens wait to pass the Greek-Macedonian border, guarded by Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
A migrant with a child attempts to pass the Greek-Macedonian border, guarded by Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants wait to cross the Macedonian-Greek border near the town of Gevgelija on August 21, 2015. At least five migrants were slightly hurt August 21 when Macedonian police threw noise grenades to drive back refugees from the country's border with Greece, an AFP photographer at the scene said. More than 3,000 mostly Syrian refugees are stuck in no-man's land near the Greek village of Eidomeni after Macedonia August 20 declared a state of emergency and sent troops to help stem the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Balkan country to reach northern Europe. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT ATANASOVSKIROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A migrant man holding a boy react as they are stuck between Macedonian riot police officers and migrants during a clash near the border train station of Idomeni, northern Greece, as they wait to be allowed by the Macedonian police to cross the border from Greece to Macedonia, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Macedonian special police forces have fired stun grenades to disperse thousands of migrants stuck on a no-man's land with Greece, a day after Macedonia declared a state of emergency on its borders to deal with a massive influx of migrants heading north to Europe. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Migrants wait to cross the Macedonian-Greek border near the town of Gevgelija on August 21, 2015. At least five migrants were slightly hurt August 21 when Macedonian police threw noise grenades to drive back refugees from the country's border with Greece, an AFP photographer at the scene said. More than 3,000 mostly Syrian refugees are stuck in no-man's land near the Greek village of Eidomeni after Macedonia August 20 declared a state of emergency and sent troops to help stem the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Balkan country to reach northern Europe. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT ATANASOVSKIROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants wait to cross the Macedonian-Greek border near the town of Gevgelija on August 21, 2015. At least five migrants were slightly hurt August 21 when Macedonian police threw noise grenades to drive back refugees from the country's border with Greece, an AFP photographer at the scene said. More than 3,000 mostly Syrian refugees are stuck in no-man's land near the Greek village of Eidomeni after Macedonia August 20 declared a state of emergency and sent troops to help stem the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Balkan country to reach northern Europe. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT ATANASOVSKIROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece on August 21, 2015. At least five migrants were slightly hurt August 21 when Macedonian police threw noise grenades to drive back refugees from the country's border with Greece, an AFP photographer at the scene said. More than 3,000 mostly Syrian refugees are stuck in no-man's land near the Greek village of Eidomeni after Macedonia August 20 declared a state of emergency and sent troops to help stem the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Balkan country to reach northern Europe. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
A baby sleeps in a tent while migrants wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece on August 21, 2015. At least five migrants were slightly hurt August 21 when Macedonian police threw noise grenades to drive back refugees from the country's border with Greece, an AFP photographer at the scene said. More than 3,000 mostly Syrian refugees are stuck in no-man's land near the Greek village of Eidomeni after Macedonia August 20 declared a state of emergency and sent troops to help stem the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Balkan country to reach northern Europe. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants wait to cross the Macedonian-Greek border near the town of Gevgelija on August 21, 2015. At least five migrants were slightly hurt August 21 when Macedonian police threw noise grenades to drive back refugees from the country's border with Greece, an AFP photographer at the scene said. More than 3,000 mostly Syrian refugees are stuck in no-man's land near the Greek village of Eidomeni after Macedonia August 20 declared a state of emergency and sent troops to help stem the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Balkan country to reach northern Europe. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT ATANASOVSKIROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A migrant woman with children waits to pass the Greek-Macedonian border, guarded by Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants wait to pass the Greek-Macedonian border, guarded by Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants rest while waiting to pass the Greek-Macedonian border, guarded by Macedonian police near the town of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 21, 2015. Macedonian police have reinforced control at the border with Greece in a bid to stop the influx of migrants, but a few hundred Syrians managed to cross the frontier overnight into August 21. Police prevented reporters to access a no-man's land where on August 20, officers had been in a standoff with about 1,500 migrants and refugees who wanted to cross into Macedonia. AFP PHOTO /SAKIS MITROLIDISSAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images

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 fence on the border - join her.

"They took me out and left him there," Ms Kabul said with tears in her eyes. "I just want to talk to him."

Macedonian police said they started blocking the refugees on the 30-mile frontier "for the security of citizens who live in the border areas and for better treatment of the migrants".

The UN 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 urged Macedonian authorities to stop police violence against migrants.

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