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Thousands Of Asylum-Seekers Remain Trapped Along Macedonian Border


Thousands of asylum-seekers are trapped at the border between Greece and Macedonia. Macedonia sits on the route to Northern Europe that was taken by huge numbers of migrants last year. Now, other countries along that route are encouraging Macedonians to strictly limit those who are allowed to cross the border. Joanna Kakissis sent this report from the Greek side of the border.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: A little boy no more than 3 years old weeps with exhaustion as he walks along a pebbly dirt road near the Greek village of Idomeni. Hundreds of families are walking with him. All are from Syria and Iraq, and they're arriving at a border that's closed to all but a few dozen people a day. As many as 10,000 asylum-seekers are camped out here. Some are sleeping on blankets on the wet grass. Others, like Mohammad Sabbagh, bought overpriced tents for shelter.

MOHAMMAD SABBAGH: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: His 3-year-old son got sick sleeping outside.

SABBAGH: Yesterday, I come from hospital. We stayed there four days.

KAKISSIS: Because of your son?

SABBAGH: Yeah, because he didn't has immunity. He cannot breathe.

KAKISSIS: Sabbagh is 27, a computer engineer from Damascus. He says most Syrians are going in one direction in Europe.

SABBAGH: Our direction to Germany, OK, or Vienna because they open the border there.

KAKISSIS: He is headed to Vienna, the capital of Austria. His brother is already there. Sabbagh does not know that Austrian border restrictions are why he's been stuck here for 11 days. Dozens of families are sleeping on blankets inside a giant tent run by an aid group. There, I meet Fadi Kamar Aldeen and his wife, Randa Abdulkalif. They're from Idlib, Syria. One is a lawyer. The other is a teacher. They had a good life in Syria before the war. But now, Abdulkalif says, their three children haven't slept for days.

RANDA ABDULKALIF: Seven days we are here, and the situation is very hard. We are tired and sick.

KAKISSIS: There are few places to shower, and people say their children are breaking out in terrible skin rashes. Like many of the families here, Aldeen and Abdulkalif are trying to reach Germany. But Omar Sattar, from Iraq, wants to go to Sweden. He's 18 and left medical school in Baghdad. He says his father was being hunted down by Islamist militants. He and his sleepy-eyed 9-year-old brother are waiting in bathroom line that seems to run on forever.

OMAR SATTAR: No food, no clothing, not everything here.

KAKISSIS: This border area is now a de facto refugee camp, one that's running out of resources. As I'm speaking to Sattar, a Syrian named Ahmed Al-Gheddeh joins the conversation. He says European countries are closing their borders because the governments don't want to bear the cost of the refugees.

AHMED AL-GHEDDEH: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "Europe does not want us anymore unless we pay our own way," he says, "and we do not have any money." For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on the Greek-Macedonian border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.