Macedonia struggles to ration entry of rain-soaked refugees

Reuters News
|
Posted: Aug 22, 2015 3:36 AM

By Fatos Bytyci and Yannis Behrakis

GEVGELIJA, Macedonia, IDOMENI, Greece (Reuters) - Thousands of rain-soaked migrants stormed across Macedonia’s border on Saturday as security forces struggled to enforce a decree to stem their flow through the Balkans to western Europe.

A Reuters reporter said police lobbed stun grenades and managed to contain a part of the crowd, but several thousand others tore through muddy fields to Macedonian territory after days spent in the open.

Macedonia on Thursday declared a state of emergency and ordered its borders sealed to migrants, many of them refugees from conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who have been entering from Greece at a rate of 2,000 per day en route to Hungary and Europe's borderless Schengen zone.

On Friday, riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to drive back angry crowds, before beginning to ration entry to small groups, particularly women and children. But far more have since arrived on the Greek side, converging on a filthy, chaotic strip of frontier without access to shelter, food or water.

Many of those arriving are Syrian refugees who have come via Greek islands such as Kos. Some 50,000 hit Greek shores in July alone.

"In this Europe, animals are sleeping in beds and we sleep in the rain," said 23-year-old Syrian woman Fatima Hamido after running across the border. "I was freezing for four days in the rain, with nothing to eat."

Pakistani man Faroq Awais, 30, said: "Last night it was raining and we couldn’t go anywhere inside. We were sleeping against the walls of a building but it didn’t help."

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, called on the government to reopen the border.

"We urge the (Macedonian) government to start opening the border again and prioritizing the most vulnerable, such as women, children and sick people," said Alexandra Krause, a senior protection officer with the UNHCR.

"There are around 3,000 people here and the numbers are rising," Krause told Reuters. "People are exhausted. It has rained all night and they had no shelter."

(Additional reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Andrew Roche)