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Police In Macedonia Fire Stun Grenades At Refugees Who Storm Border


The border between Greece and the tiny Balkan country of Macedonia has become the latest flashpoint in Europe's ongoing migration crisis. Macedonia temporarily shut its borders, stranding thousands of mostly Syrian refugees. When the migrants tried to break through, Macedonian police used tear gas and stun grenades on the crowds, including families with young children. Joanna Kakissis joins us now from the Greek side of the border. Joanna, just described what you're looking at. What's the scene there now?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Well, there are usually a few hundred people here at the border at a time. And of course, you know, as you mentioned, nearly all of them are Syrian refugees, their families. You see mom, dad, little kids, grandma. And they're all traveling together. And people are waiting for a few hours at a time. In other words, the police now are opening the border every three or four hours and letting a few people through. But there's so many people coming. Every single minute, practically, you see them walking down the street. You see them crowding. And they have to wait usually four or five hours to cross. And sometimes they end up camping out overnight - so, you know, sleeping outside, making fires to stay warm and so forth.

MARTIN: Are you hearing anything from the Greek and Macedonian authorities?

KAKISSIS: You know, local authorities from both countries are really overwhelmed right now. You know, we all know Greece is in the midst of this huge economic crisis. It's essentially broke. And Macedonia is a very poor country. It used to be part of Yugoslavia. It has barely 2 million people. It doesn't have any resources. It's not even in the European Union, so it can't even ask for aid. So yesterday, when I spoke to one of the police officers at the border, he said, look, tell them all to go back. This is your problem, not ours. We can't handle it. And the Macedonian authorities on the other side say, you know, too many people are coming through, and they're sleeping outside all over our villages. And we can't help them. There are a few people who are giving, you know, food and water and clothes. But, you know, it's just not enough.

MARTIN: I mean, these people have fled this horrible civil war in Syria. They're now camped out at this border. They must be desperate by now.

KAKISSIS: Yes, they sure are. I mean, I met a middle-aged pharmacist. His name is Ahmed. He's from Deir Ezzor. And he built this fire to keep him and, like, 20 members of his family warm. They were sleeping outside, of course, because the border was closed. And he says, you know, Syrians are now homeless, and we need your help. They want the world to help.

AHMED: All governments must support us - all governments, even United States government. Anybody can help us. All the world can help us if they want. But they don't want. I don't know why.

KAKISSIS: Ahmed finally got out early this morning. He's now on a train to Serbia. And then he hopes to travel to Hungary and then Austria until he gets to Germany. That's his final destination. That's the place that many of the people that I spoke to last night want to go.

MARTIN: Reporter Joanna Kakissis along the Greek-Macedonian border. Thanks so much, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Rachel. 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.