14 mi­grants killed by train in Mace­do­nia: po­lice

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY BORIS GRDANOSKI AND KON­STANTIN TESTORIDES

Four­teen sus­pected mi­grants from Afghanistan and So­ma­lia, walk­ing in the dark along train tracks to­ward the Euro­pean Union, were killed by a night­time ex­press train in a re­mote river gorge in Mace­do­nia, po­lice said Fri­day.

The mi­grants, part of a larger group, had been walk­ing north of the cen­tral Mace­do­nian town of Ve­les around 10:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) Thurs­day night when a pas­sen­ger train trav­el­ing from the north­ern Greek city of Thes­sa­loniki to the Ser­bian cap­i­tal of Bel­grade struck them.

“The train driver tried to stop, but it was too late and the train hit the group of mi­grants who weren’t able to leave the tracks,” said Nikola Kos­tov, gen­eral manager of Mace­do­nian Rail­ways.

Kos­tov told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the train driver saw about 100 mi­grants on the tracks, and spot­ted them with only 100 me­ters (yards) and a few sec­onds be­fore im­pact. He called the stretch of rail­way, bounded on one side by the River Var­dar and the other by a steep slope, as “danger­ous and un­ap­proach­able.”

Mi­grants us­ing an over­land route from Greece through the Balkans to Hun­gary of­ten use the train tracks as a path to guide them. They most com­monly walk in dark­ness — though the dan­gers of be­ing hit by a train are greater at night — to avoid de­tec­tion by po­lice. Although con­sid­ered a safer route than cross­ing the Mediter­ranean from Libya to Italy, the Balkans route for mi­grants still is fraught with dan­ger.

Kos­tov said Mace­do­nian trains struck and killed 40 mi­grants last year, when the Balkans route ex­pe­ri­enced a sud­den surge in pedes­trian traf­fic driven by refugees from con­flicts in Syria, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

The group had been head­ing north of the iso­lated rail sta­tion at Ra­jko Zinzio­fov. Sur­vivors clam­bered up the slope or clung to bushes along the river bank, au­thor­i­ties said.

Po­lice de­tained eight sur­vivors at the scene of the ac­ci­dent. Po­lice spokesman Ivo Kotevski said they would be ques­tioned by pros­e­cu­tors in Ve­les. Other sur­vivors are pre­sumed to have fled.

The Ve­les pros­e­cu­tor han­dling the case, Slav­ica Temelkovski, said those killed were all aged 20 to 30. She had no im­me­di­ate in­for­ma­tion on whether they were men or women or their names, but all were ex­pected to be buried in a Mus­lim grave­yard in Ve­les.

Tens of thou­sands of mi­grants and refugees at­tempt to reach the more pros­per­ous cen­tral and west­ern Euro­pean coun­tries each year by head­ing from Turkey to nearby Greek is­lands, then ei­ther try­ing to sneak onto Italy-bound fer­ries, or head­ing over­land through Mace­do­nia or Al­ba­nia.

Although short, the sea jour­ney from the Turk­ish coast is also per­ilous, with smug­glers over­load­ing un­sea­wor­thy boats with mi­grants, and the cap­tain of­ten aban­don­ing the ves­sel af­ter it en­ters Greek wa­ters so as to evade ar­rest. On Mon­day, a wooden yacht packed with about 90 mi­grants ran aground on the shore of the Greek is­land of Rhodes, leav­ing three peo­ple dead, in­clud­ing a young boy.

AP

A piece of bread lays on the rail tracks north of the cen­tral Mace­do­nian town of Ve­les on Fri­day, April 24 near the site where 14 other mi­grants were killed by a train while walk­ing along the tracks.

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