IDOMENI, Greece A tent city mushroomed around a tiny border town in northern Greece on Tuesday after thousands of migrants and refugees found their way towards western Europe barred by border shutdowns across the Balkans.
People, many fleeing wars and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, continued to arrive all day at the Greek village of Idomeni on the border with Macedonia.
By the latest count, there were anything between 8,500 and 9,500 people at the makeshift camp, which sprouted up parallel to a razor-wire fence erected by the Macedonian authorities to control migrant flows. The camp's capacity is 1,500.
The mood in the camp was subdued a day after Macedonian police used teargas to prevent angry migrants storming the border. Macedonia and other Balkan countries further north are only allowing small numbers through daily.
On a green plain surrounded by hills, hundreds of small tents dotted muddy ploughed fields erected next to several larger tents used to register the migrants. There, refugees were given a priority number to stand in queue and wait for the border to open with Macedonia.
Around 15 people were stranded in the no-man's land between the border posts of Greece and Macedonia, a four-metre wide strip of land.
"Macedonian police put us here and the Greeks don't want us back," said Yase Qued, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan.
He and his family had crossed into Macedonia, but he said they were turned back due to Skopje's new policy of only accepting Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
The UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said on Tuesday the number of refugees and migrants trapped in Greece by the border closures had spiked to 24,000, with about 8,500 in Idomeni. Other aid agencies put the number at Idomeni at slightly more, at 9,500.
"Last night there were people sleeping outside in the mud, without even a tent ... Most of them are vulnerable women and children and we also have many many people who have disabilities," said Vicky Markolefa from the medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres.
The European Commission said on Tuesday it would put forward a plan on Wednesday to offer humanitarian assistance to Greece, which is struggling to cope with a tide of migrants that has far exceeded one million people over the past year.
Mohammad, a 27-year-old Palestinian from Gaza, was also stuck in the narrow strip of land between Greece and Macedonia. He said he had spent two days holed up there after being caught by police about 20 km (12 miles) inside Macedonian territory
"This is like something out of the movies," he said. "We can't go to Europe, we can't go to Greece. Nobody wants us."
(Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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First Published On : Mar 2, 2016 01:46 IST