Hundreds of migrants crossed unhindered from Greece into Macedonia on Sunday after overwhelmed security forces appeared to abandon a bid to stem their flow through the Balkans to Western Europe following days of chaos and confrontation.
Riot police remained, but did little to slow the steady stream of migrants, many of them refugees from the Syrian war and other conflicts in the Middle East.
Macedonia had declared a state of emergency on Thursday and sealed its southern border to migrants pouring in at a rate of 2,000 per day en route to Serbia, then Hungary and the European Union’s borderless Schengen Area.
That led to desperate scenes at the border, as men, women and children slept under open skies with little access to food or water.
Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades in an attempt to manage access and drive back crowds, but were overwhelmed on Saturday by several thousand who tore through police lines or ran through nearby empty fields.
The state eventually added trains, and buses arrived from across the country to take the migrants swiftly north to Serbia and the next step of a long journey from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
“I watched the news on TV and I was astonished,” said Abdullah Bilal, 41, from the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo. “I thought I would face the same when I arrive here. But it was very peaceful. The Macedonian police told us, ‘Welcome to Macedonia; trains and buses are waiting for you.'”
Mohannad Albayati, 35, from Damascus, traveling with his wife, two children and three brothers, said: “I passed one step, but it is a long road to my destination. With Allah’s help, I will go to Germany.”
The backlog created in Macedonia, which faces criticism from aid agencies for not expanding capacity to process the migrants, reached Serbia overnight, straining the country’s own reception centers.
“Last night after midnight, the first group of 200 people crossed the border,” said a Serbian government official who declined to be named.
(China Daily 08/24/2015 page12)