IDOMENI, Greece—On foot or in taxis, hundreds of exhausted refugee families trying to reach central Europe flocked Tuesday to a burgeoning tent city on Greece’s border with Macedonia, which has not allowed anybody in for 24 hours citing a similar policy by Serbia further north.
Well over 7,000 — police say there could be up to 10,000 people there — mostly Syrian and Iraqi refugees are stuck at the Idomeni border crossing in deteriorating conditions.
An organized camp can take no more people, and hundreds of tents fill the fields stretching toward the border fence, which is patrolled on the Macedonian side by scores of police officers, assisted by special police forces and police from other Balkan countries.
Overnight rain soaked many families, who hung up clothing and belongings to dry in the sun Tuesday.
Some migrants have been waiting at Idomeni for more than a week, as even when the border is open Macedonia allows in no more than a few hundred a day. On Monday it took in only 30.
A group of about 150 people who have been told it’s their turn to enter Macedonia have spent days in a large, flimsy tent right in front of the crossing.
“I’ve been at Idomeni for 10 days, and it’s the fourth day I’ve been waiting to cross over,” said Hassan Rasheed, 27, from Iraq. “Conditions are very bad. There are many ill children who are coughing, and we spent the night in this tent under heavy rain.”
The Idomeni crossing has been closed for nearly 24 hours, following clashes when hundreds of migrants tried to force their way into Macedonia, whose police responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Nevertheless, small groups of refugees arrive in a steady flow, mostly on foot after walking up to 30 kilometers (18 miles) along highways.
One of them was Ahmed Majid, a 26-year-old Iraqi travelling with his wife and two children.
“We have been walking for three kilometers. Police stopped our taxi on the national road, which is why we are going through the fields,” said Majid. “On the route from Athens police kept stopping us at petrol stations and told us that the border was still shut.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday Greece deported a group of 69 economic migrants from north Africa back to Turkey at the Kipi border crossing. A further 230 people are due to be sent back by Wednesday, mostly Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian nationals.