Torrential rains and thick mud are latest hurdles for refugees
As if fear, hunger, thirst, worry and exhaustion were not enough, new trials emerged yesterday for those on the 1,000-mile-plus trek into Europe: torrential rains and thick mud.
About 7,000 refugees, including families with young children, braved relentless downpours to cross Greece's northern border into Macedonia.
At the northern village of Idomeni, crowds gathered before dawn, using anything they could find - plastic sheeting, garbage bags, hooded jackets, even a beach umbrella - in a futile attempt to stay dry. Sneakers stuck in the mud. Rain dripped off hoods and caps. All were soaked to the skin.
Lashing rain also hit further north at the Serbian border with Hungary, where aid groups said the conditions were dire.
"The situation here is really a big disaster, because a lot of refugees are coming every hour. We don't have real infrastructure here," said Kathrin Niedermoser, a volunteer with an Austrian aid group. "We don't even have electricity, which means we don't have warm water."
In Budapest, turmoil reigned at the main Keleti train station, where police blocked access to platforms for more than 400 migrants with tickets to Vienna, many of whom had waited for up to 10 hours. Austrian rail authorities, saying their trains were "overwhelmed", halted all trains to and from Hungary leaving many travellers stranded in Budapest.
At Idomeni, in northern Greece, about 4,000 migrants stood in a muddy field waiting for Macedonian police to let them across. Thousands more sought shelter under tents pitched in fields, or headed to the Idomeni train station, where they huddled around fires to stay warm.
Macedonian police formed a human chain on the border to limit the flow of refugees into more manageable groups, letting families with young children cross first.
For some, the chaos, the cold and the rain were unbearable. One Iraqi man was asking anyone he could find how he could return home. He wanted to fly back to Iraq, he said, he couldn't bear the conditions any more.
Abas Jizi, a 30-year-old supermarket employee from Deir ez-Zor in Syria, huddled around a fire with his wife and three children at the Idomeni train station, cradling his one-year-old son.
"I was hit by the police" in Lesbos, he said. "The situation was very bad. We waited for 10 days to get our papers. We got to Athens yesterday and we set off straight away for here."
He had no choice but to leave Syria, he said.