Weary refugees stuck at border

  • Yousif Shikhmous, migrant from Syria holding his baby named Merkkel in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) Darko Vojinovic

  • A Syrian refugee girl kneels on a tent, as men stand in front, in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski) Boris Grdanoski

  • Syrian refugee babies sit in a tent in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday. AP Photoi

  • A migrant walks near the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) Darko Vojinovic

  • Migrants rest in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) Darko Vojinovic

  • A migrant woman stands on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) Darko Vojinovic

  • Migrants are seen through the tent window in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) Darko Vojinovic

  • A migrant girl walks in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) Darko Vojinovic

  • Syrian refugees try to light a fire in the mud among tents, in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski) Boris Grdanoski

  • A Syrian men squats in the mud among tents in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedonia and Serbia near the northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce, Friday, March 11, 2016. About 1,500 refugees remain stranded at the Macedonian border with Serbia as the borders on the Balkan migrant route are closing. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski) Boris Grdanoski

  • The Greek flag drapes a tent as a men hangs clothes to dry at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Friday, March 11, 2016. After nearly three days of rain, conditions in the refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian where about 14,000 people are stranded have deteriorated significantly, with many of its residents struggling to re-pitch their small camping tents in slightly drier patches.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) Vadim Ghirda

  • Migrants' shoes are placed on a baby stroller to dry at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Friday, March 11, 2016. After nearly three days of rain, conditions in the refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian where about 14,000 people are stranded have deteriorated significantly, with many of its residents struggling to re-pitch their small camping tents in slightly drier patches.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) Vadim Ghirda

  • A child holds a food ration at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Friday, March 11, 2016. After nearly three days of rain, conditions in the refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian where about 14,000 people are stranded have deteriorated significantly, with many of its residents struggling to re-pitch their small camping tents in slightly drier patches.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) Vadim Ghirda

  • A teddybear burns on a fire outside a tent at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Friday, March 11, 2016. After nearly three days of rain, conditions in the refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian where about 14,000 people are stranded have deteriorated significantly, with many of its residents struggling to re-pitch their small camping tents in slightly drier patches.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) Vadim Ghirda

Associated Press
Published: 3/11/2016 9:21:00 PM

TABANOVCE, Macedonia — Yousif Shikhmous had such high hopes of starting a new life in Germany that when his son was born, the Syrian refugee named him Merkkel. Only four months later, Shikhmous has seen all those dreams shattered after he and his family boarded what has become known as “The Last Train to Europe.”

The group of about 400 refugees from Syria and Iraq were among the last to enter Macedonia from Greece, where they got stuck this week when the Balkan countries started closing their borders, abruptly shutting the main migrant pathway to Europe.

The group of mostly women and small children had caught a northbound train that took them to the border with Serbia. But instead of moving on, they found themselves in a no-man’s-land between the Macedonian and Serbian frontiers — mired in a muddy limbo created by the latest chaos marking Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

Thousands of people now are similarly stuck along the route through the Balkans that saw more than 1 million people surge out of Turkey, through Greece and toward the wealthier nations of Europe in 2015.

Refused permission to move onward, they are caught by the suddenly changing entry rules and living in dire conditions in small, donated tents. And more people fleeing war and poverty keep streaming out of the Middle East and elsewhere.

About 14,000 people are stranded on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia, and authorities hope to start relocating most of them from an overcrowded refugee camp there in the coming weeks. Tensions are running so high at the camp near the Greek village of Idomeni that fights over food broke out Friday as aid organizations distributed the supplies, leaving some people bloodied and limping.

It took two months for the Shikhmous family — 32-year-old Yousif, his 20-year-old wife, Dilan Haji, and young Merkkel — to escape the Syrian civil war.

They went via Turkey and over the Aegean Sea to Greece, crossed the Greece-Macedonia border on foot, and boarded a special train to take the refugees to Serbia, paying 25 euros (about $28) per person.

They reached the Serbian border Monday, where they got off the train to cross the frontier on foot and be taken to a refugee center for processing.


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