Timeline of African migrants' 10-day Balkan journey on foot

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2015 11:45 AM

A journey by African migrants as they tried to reach the European Union through the Balkans ended largely in defeat after a 10-day, 200-kilometer (125-mile) hike. But weeks later a dogged, lucky few finally reached their EU destination of Hungary.

This is a timeline of the group's daily progress, as monitored by The Associated Press, amid harsh weather, injuries, infighting, exhaustion and police pursuit.

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Feb. 25-27: A 45-member group of West African migrants, including 11 women and two infants, assembles in the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki. All sleep in an unfurnished two-bedroom basement apartment.

Feb. 28: They walk at dawn to the central bus terminal amid growing police scrutiny. Two are arrested for failing to produce IDs. Forty-three board buses to Polikastro to begin the first leg of their epic walk, following train tracks for 10 hours and 19 kilometers (12 miles) through forests and fields. They camp west of the Greek border town of Evzonoi at midnight.

March 1: At night, in small groups, all 43 run across a highway during a 6-kilometer (4-mile) border crossing. They camp near the Macedonian village of Gevgelija.

March 2: At dusk, the group crosses an exposed ridge, sprints across a road junction into thick reeds, and covers 40 kilometers (25 miles) before stopping around 4 a.m. under a freeway overpass near the village of Marvintsi.

March 3: Infighting over suspected stolen food and equipment delays resumption of the journey. Then an Ivorian man's knee injury requires a lengthy halt in a cabbage field. The group covers only 15 kilometers (9 miles) before stopping north of Udovo village.

March 4: The group is reduced to 42 as the injured Ivorian is left behind. Shadowing the Vardar River, the group struggles amid rain and declining stocks of food and water. They cover 20 kilometers (12 miles) and camp near the village of Tremnik, now two days behind schedule.

March 5: The migrants reach the town of Nogotino weak, hungry, cold and wet. After a resupply, they keep walking north. The mother of the 10-month-old girl in the group falls down a muddy embankment after midnight. They struggle to find a sheltered campground in freezing conditions near the village of Gradsko after a 25-kilometer (15-mile) trek.

March 6: North of Gradsko, heavy snow falls, restricting progress to 15 kilometers (9 miles). Some of their 10 tents are broken.

March 7: The group covers 15 more kilometers (9 miles) to reach the outskirts of Veles, the first major town encountered.

March 8: An exhausted mother and her 10-month-old son are left at an Orthodox church. After dark and 5 kilometers (3 miles) along, residents of central Veles spot the remaining 40 migrants. Police chase and arrest five, including the mother of the 10-month-old girl. Another woman breaks her ankle while fleeing and is hospitalized in the Macedonian capital, Skopje. But most — including the infant, carried by others — head north.

March 9: Ten days and approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) into their trek, most of the group's remaining members are arrested north of Veles. One woman is released by police after pleading — falsely — that she must search for her own baby.

March 10-12: Only 13 from the original group of 45 reach their northernmost Macedonian destination, the border town of Lojane. Most cross within days into Serbia. The woman who talked her way out of arrest remains in the Lojane safe house to care for the infant girl of the deported mother. The mother, like most of the others arrested, is back at the Thessaloniki starting point.

March 20: A second attempt to cross Macedonia on foot, involving most of the same migrants, ends in arrest south of Veles and deportation back to Greece.

March 23: A third attempt begins. A few of those who escaped the March 8-9 arrests report on social media that they have reached Hungary.