IDOMENI, Greece/SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia restored rail transport for migrants coming across its southern border with Greece on Wednesday, potentially alleviating a growing backlog caused by protests either side of the frontier.
Trains had been halted for several days as taxi drivers blocked the tracks to protest at police directing migrants first to trains and buses for their journey north to Serbia, en route to western Europe.
Traffic has been disrupted on the Greek side as well by farmers protesting over pension reforms that Athens is planning to implement to satisfy the country’s international creditors.
It was unclear how the taxi row was resolved, but an official at Macedonia’s national railway said a train had left the border town of Gevgelija in the morning.
“One train left this morning. At this point, the railway is closed due to some maintenance, but we expect another train will leave this afternoon,” Kire Dimanoski, director of passenger traffic at the railway, told Reuters.
Dozens of buses packed with migrants, many of them refugees from the Syrian war, have spent several days parked at petrol stations on the main highway running north from Greece to Macedonia. Some set out on foot for the border, where makeshift camps are at full capacity on either side.
They included many women and children, who the United Nations says now account for up to 60 percent of all those arriving by boat and dinghy from Turkey.
More than 1 million people fleeing poverty, war and repression in the Middle East, Asia and Africa reached Europe’s shores last year, most heading for Germany. More than 62,000 arrived in Greece last month.
Balkan states along the route have begun denying passage to all those not coming from conflict regions of Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Police chiefs of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia met in the Macedonian capital Skopje on Wednesday to discuss how to tighten measures at their borders. Macedonia’s Goran Savovski told reporters they had agreed that those without valid travel IDs would not be allowed through, further filtering the flow.
“We have stated today that persons without travel documents, with fake passports, and those who cannot document their country of origin, will not be allowed to transit on this route,” he said.
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Hugh Lawson