Macedonia declared a state of emergency and called out the army on Thursday to confront a surge in migrants and refugees trying to reach western Europe, leaving several thousand stranded in no-man’s land.
Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said the ‘official border crossings are not shut’. Authorities, however, may have moved to seal off illegal routes used by the migrants and refugees.
Kotevski said a state of emergency had been declared on the northern and southern borders and that soldiers would be brought in to help address a growing crisis.
At the station, families slept in the open, before running and pressing to board the few trains leaving for Serbia, the last stop before Hungary and Europe’s border-less Schengen zone. Hungary is racing to complete a fence along its 175-km border with Serbia to keep them out, threatening to create a bottleneck of tens of thousands.
Stung by scenes of chaos, of children squeezing through open carriage windows to escape the crush and men wielding sticks, Macedonia has sent riot police to Gevgelija to try to restore some semblance of order.
It appealed on Wednesday for neighbouring countries to send train wagons to address the demand. But the United Nations refugee agency urged the government to do more, saying it should allocate a site to properly accommodate the migrants and refugees.
The problem may worsen with the possible arrival of thousands being evacuated by boat from the Greek island of Kos to the mainland after 21,000 people landed on Greek shores last week alone.
“Depending on how Greece uses ships to decongest the islands that will also temporarily increase the arrivals here,” said Alexandra Krause, Senior Protection Officer at the UNHCR in the Macedonian capital, Skopje.
The only site currently being used is at the local police station, where Krause said the UNHCR had constructed some shelter with capacity for just 165 people. Krause said the Red Cross had access to the migrants and refugees in the border area but warned of harsher weather approaching.