1500 refugees let into Macedonia

  • 23/08/2015
Macedonia police block migrants trying to cross the border from Greece (Reuters)
Macedonia police block migrants trying to cross the border from Greece (Reuters)

More than 1500 mostly Syrian refugees, trapped in a no-man's land for three days have entered Macedonia from Greece after police allowed them to pass despite earlier trying to hold back the crowd using stun grenades.

The dash across the border on Saturday was the latest dramatic chapter in Europe's migrant crisis, and came as another 3000 migrants were rescued in waters off Libya - in one of the largest single-day rescue operations yet in the Mediterranean.

Some 104,000 migrants and refugees have landed on Italian shores so far this year, while Greece has seen an influx of around 150,000 people, according to the International Organisation for Migration. More than 2300 people have died trying to make the dangerous journey.

On Macedonia's southern border with Greece, police had earlier on Saturday used stun grenades and batons in response to hundreds of refugees trying to break through barbed wire fencing, before apparently deciding to let everyone cross into the Balkan nation.

By late evening not a single person remained in the strip of no-man's land at the border where more than 2,000 people, including women and children, had been stuck without proper shelter since Thursday.

Most of the migrants were headed straight for the station in the nearby town of Gevgelija in the hopes of catching a train towards Serbia, from where they aim to eventually reach the European Union to start a new life.

Macedonia declared a state of emergency on Thursday over the influx at its border and twice resorted to force to prevent people from entering in recent days, resulting in a few light injuries.

Thousands more refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are expected to arrive in Macedonia in the coming days after being ferried to the Greek mainland from the islands.

In the border town of Gevgelija, extra trains have been laid on to deal with the spike in passengers. It takes around four hours by train to reach Tabanovce on Macedonia's northern border with Serbia, some 180km away.

Once they reach Serbia, many migrants and refugees will try to make their way to Hungary, which is a major crossing point into the EU, although the country is building a four-metre barbed wire fence along its 175km border to stop the influx.