Macedonia demands more trains as migrant numbers surge

Macedonia says more trains needed for desperate migrants heading to West as more people arrive on shores of Greece on boats

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Macedonia appealed for more trains on Wednesday as thousands of refugees have been desperately trying to travel to Serbia, causing chaos for Macedonian railway transportation.

The country warned the  European Union and its neighbors that it is running out of trains, and said it needs help to deal with this "alarming situation."

The chief of the Macedonian Railway Company, Nikola Kostov, told a local TV channel that the trains have "no more capacity to carry all those who want to travel toward western European countries. The situation is alarming," AFP reported.

Hundreds of migrants - mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa - have tried to cross into Serbia through Macedonia and the town of Gevgelija on the border with Greece has been a meeting place for those who reach there on foot.

They take trains from Gevgelija to continue north towards Serbia and eventually the EU countries. Media reports have been filled with images of desperate people who have been trying to get aboard trains by pushing and shoving each other.

Trains are prefered because they provide a cheaper travel option which is safer than crossings the Mediterranean on boats. Macedonia provides 3-day transit visas to migrants to find ways to cross borders.

But Macedonia said none of its neighbors or other countries responded so far to their demands for more wagons.

"All our resources have been exhausted and it will only get worse in the coming days," Kostov reportedly said, apparently referring to a new wave of refugees coming from Greece.

As Macedonia warned about a new influx of migrants, Greece announced that nearly 2,500 more migrants arrived in Greece’s main port of Piraeus near Athens on Thursday.

A ferry carrying the refugees arrived on the Greek island Kos from Turkey earlier, as over 240,000 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived on the shores of Greece and Italy by sea this year. Thousands of refugees have then been transported by buses to the Macedonian border.

Greece is struggling to deal with the rising humanitarian crisis. Between January and the end of July, about 124,000 new migrant arrived at the Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros islands of the country, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), many of them risking their lives and handing over their savings to smugglers to reach European coasts.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on the EU to provide assistance last month, saying that the migrant issue "surpasses" his crisis-hit nation's resources and most migrants do not want to stay in the financially troubled country.

Following his statements, the European Union promised a $2.6 billion aid package to help humanitarian crises all over the world, including minimum $520 million for Greece.

Germany said this week that it is waiting to receive about 800,000 asylum applications this year instead of previous estimate of 450,000 - four times last year's number.

Germany, with a population of 80 million population and the largest economy in Europe, is the European country taking in the most asylum seekers.

TRTWorld and agencies