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Migrants killed by Macedonia train

Published 24/04/2015

Migrants using the overland route from Greece to western Europe often use train tracks to guide them through Macedonia
Migrants using the overland route from Greece to western Europe often use train tracks to guide them through Macedonia

Fourteen suspected migrants walking in the dark along train tracks towards the European Union have been killed by an express train in a remote river gorge in Macedonia.

The migrants, part of a larger group from Afghanistan and Somalia, were walking north of the central Macedonian town of Veles when a passenger train travelling from the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki to the Serbian capital of Belgrade struck them.

Nikola Kostov, general manager of Macedonian Railways, said: "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."

Mr Kostov said the driver saw about 100 migrants on the tracks 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.

Mr Kostov said Macedonian trains 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, and 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 are expected to be buried in a Muslim graveyard in Veles.

Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees attempt to reach more prosperous central and western European countries each year by heading from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, then either trying to sneak on to 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 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.

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