By Fedja Grulovic
POLIKASTRO, Greece (Reuters) - At least 80 buses packed with migrants, many of them women and children, were backed up short of the Greek border with Macedonia on Tuesday, stranded by protests on either side of the frontier.
Taxi-drivers on the Macedonian side have blocked the railway line between the two countries, protesting over the fact that police give priority first to trains and buses to take the migrants north to Serbia en route to western Europe.
On the Greek side, farmers had parked dozens of tractors on the roadside leading to the border crossing at Idomeni, part of a protest over a planned pension reform by the Greek government to satisfy international creditors.
At least 80 buses stood on the Greek side. A camp at the frontier was at full capacity with some 700 people.
"We’ve been here for a few days now," said a Macedonian taxi-driver, who gave his name as Goran. "The railway is blocked, the aim is to get the authorities to talk to us about an agreement that will allow us to transport refugees to Tabanovce," on Macedonia’s northern border with Serbia.
More than 62,000 migrants, many of them refugees from the Syrian war, arrived in Greece last month by boat and dinghy from Turkey braving winter weather and rough seas, according to the the International Organization for Migration.
"(It) is many, many times what we saw a year ago in the previous January," IOM spokesman Joel Millman said in Geneva.
He added that there were more than 360 deaths among migrants in the waters off Greece, Turkey and Italy during the month.
More than 360 migrants died in the waters off Greece, Turkey and Italy during the month. In the latest fatal crossing, nine people, including two babies, were found drowned off the coast of western Turkey on Tuesday.
More than 1 million people fleeing poverty, war and repression in the Middle East, Asia and Africa reached Europe’s shores last year, most heading for Germany.
MANY WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Temperatures in the Balkans, having dropped below freezing in January, were back up into the teens, easing the journey for a growing proportion of women and children.
"From one in 10 who were children, now we are looking at a significant proportion of women and children, up to 60 percent,” Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF, told a news briefing in Geneva.
Aid agencies and authorities erected tents along the route to the border, but many male migrants slept outside on the ground, lighting camp fires against the morning chill.
"It's not possible to get all these people into tents," said a refugee who gave his name as Sardar and said he was from Iraq.
"There aren’t enough facilities so we spent the night on the ground."
A police official in Macedonia, who declined to be named, told Reuters: "We’re working on the problem. We hope it will be resolved soon."
(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Writing by Matt Robinson)