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Tensions Over Migrants Build Along Greece's Border With Macedonia


Let's hear now from one of the spots where European authorities have tried to control the flow of refugees onto the continent. Thousands of migrants are trying to cross out of Greece northward to Macedonia. Yesterday, they tore down a barbed-wire fence in their way and were met with tear gas. The BBC's Danny Savage is covering the story. He's near a refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border. And what have you been seeing there?

DANNY SAVAGE: Steve, it's a lot calmer today after the trouble of yesterday. But that trouble was brewing for some time. This border camping here on the border between Greece and Macedonia was really only built to accommodate about 1,500 people. But there are 7,000 migrants here now. And a lot of them have the right papers, if you like, to proceed northwards toward Germany. They come from Syria and Iraq, mainly. And they're trying to get to Germany, which is the only European country at the moment that basically has an open-door policy that it will take migrants in. But to get from Greece to Germany, they have to pass through three or four other countries. And those countries are really restricting the flow of migrants at the moment. And that means that on the border of Macedonia, there's just a trickle of people getting across.

INSKEEP: Let me make sure I understand what the Macedonian authorities are doing. Are they blocking people from passing entirely or just moving very, very slowly in processing each new arrival?

SAVAGE: They're moving very, very slowly. I'd say in any one 24-hour period over the last few days, the border gates have only opened for a few hours, usually late at night. It's literally just one gate in a wire fence that opens, that allows people through. And what we're being told is that it's taking 20 minutes or so to process every single person through. So they're only allowing maybe 40 or 50 through at a time. And, for example, on Sunday, the latest figures we have, about 3,600 migrants arrived in Greece, but only just over 90 people were allowed out of Greece to Macedonia. So, you know, it's simple to work out the sums. The number of migrants building up in Greece is growing rapidly by the day, and this country is getting very concerned about number of people here.

INSKEEP: Why are Macedonian authorities taking such care - if that's the word - if many of these people say they're just passing through anyway?

SAVAGE: Well, the Macedonian authorities say they are reacting to the policies of other countries further up the migrant route. If you like, just before Christmas, you could say that there was a kind of unified plan in Europe to deal with migrants. But that's kind of fallen apart in the last few weeks. And each country is doing its own thing. So Austria, which is the country before Germany that the migrants pass through, that's limiting the number of people that it's allowing just to go through the country to about 3,000 people a day. And that's caused a knock-on effect in the other countries - the furthest out saying well, they're not going to allow that many people through because they don't want people stacking up in their countries either. So it's really stifled the flow of people. And it's a domino effect. So what's happened is that all those sort of policies are being made up at the moment by other countries further north. And so the consequence is on the Macedonia-Greece border. Macedonia are only allowing a few people up at a time, so that they don't have people building up there.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's Danny Savage of the BBC at the Greek-Macedonian border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.