Rain-soaked refugees brave elements in no man’s land as Macedonian police continue to block border crossing from Greece.by Al Jazeera
Thousands of rain-soaked refugees remain trapped in a no man’s land between Greece and Macedonia as Macedonian police continue to block the frontier, preventing them from heading north to other nations within the European Union.
Police let small groups of families with children cross the border overnight on Friday by walking to a railway station in the Macedonian 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 and children, spent the rainy and chilly night in the open, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Idomeni on the Greek side of the border, said people were continuing to arrive at the border crossing, where a “bottleneck” had formed on Saturday morning.
“This is now a bottleneck of people, there are hundreds, thousands even, and they’ll keep coming throughout the day,” he said.
Our correspondent said large numbers of Syrians had moved back from the point of crossing to separate themselves from other nationalities.
“They want to separate themselves from the other nationalities; the Pakistanis, the Afghans, the Iraqis…what they say is that all these other nationalities claim to be Syrians as well, because it is the Syrians who have the most valid claim to asylum.
“They are refugees, they are fleeing civil war. Many of the others, they say, are economic migrants.”
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 deal with the issue.
Ivo Kotevsky, a spokesman for the interior ministry, told Al Jazeera that the officers had not used violence against the refugees but had been forced to take measures to protect themselves and the border.
Kotevsky said Macedonia was trying to do its best in protecting the refugees, who had been “practically expelled from Greece”.
The refugees hope that by crossing to Macedonia they would be able to take trains through Serbia to Hungary, an EU member, which has begun erecting a fence to try to keep the distraught refugees out.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) urged the Macedonian government to do more, saying it should allocate a site to accommodate people fleeing war.
UNHCR spokesman Petros Mastakas told Al Jazeera that the refugees included “hundreds of vulnerable persons, children, babies and those with extreme vulnerabilities including medical needs.
“Most of them stay rough in the open air,” he said.