Chaos At Greek Border Leaves Thousands Of Migrants Stranded

Mar 6, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thousands of migrants remain trapped at the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The border remains closed largely because of pressure from Austria, which has decided it must stop the flow of asylum-seekers into northern European Union countries. Those stuck at the border are losing hope that they will ever leave. Joanna Kakissis brings us this report.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Ferhad Hamsouro is stressed. The former taxi driver from Aleppo, Syria has been stranded here for more than two weeks. His three young children have respiratory infections. His wife is having panic attacks. They all sleep on blankets in a giant tent with hundreds of people.

FERHAD HAMSOURO: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "Every time I try to cross the border," he says, "they make me go back." They are the police from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is not in the EU. Hamsouro says Macedonian border guards reject entry for petty reasons, such as signatures on Greek transit papers being in black instead of blue ink.

HAMSOURO: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "They let a few people cross after two days of waiting here," Hamsouro says.

HAMSOURO: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "I've been here since mid-February, and I don't know why I can't cross."

NESRINE ALKOU: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "I want a solution," says his wife, Nesrine Alkou. But a solution is nowhere in sight. A humanitarian crisis created by the EU is looming. Apostolos Tzitzikostas is the governor of the Greek province of Central Macedonia. He spoke to reporters from the border.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

APOSTOLOS TZITZIKOSTAS: The former Yugoslav republic needs to open immediately the borders. And the European Union needs to implement severe actions against the countries that are closing borders today.

KAKISSIS: Tzitzikostas also wants the Greek government to declare a state of emergency here. The border sometimes opens for a few dozen people. Exhausted mothers and babies wait near a barbed wire fence. There's no order to the line, says Samir Mersal, an accountant from Damascus.

SAMIR MERSAL: I have to stay all my life here waiting my number.

KAKISSIS: He's waited for 10 days, and he worries that frustrated people will try to storm the border fence again.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

KAKISSIS: Macedonian police tear-gassed the crowd when that happened last week, sending several children to the hospital. Mersal tries to help children and women across first. That's why a young Syrian-Kurdish mother named Wafaa approaches him.

MERSAL: (Foreign language spoken).

WAFAA: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "I'm here with my son," she says. "One had surgery." "How long have you been waiting?" Mersal asks her. "A month," she says, "because my son was in the hospital."

MERSAL: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "We must stay calm," he says. But she insists - can you help me cross soon? "Go get your children and your bags," he says. "Come sit here with us. We will do what we can." Wafaa is just 18. Her husband is dead, she says. Night falls, but the border does not reopen. More than 13,000 people are now stranded here. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on the Greek-Macedonian border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.