Hundreds of migrants and refugees walked out of an overcrowded camp on the Greek border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Monday, determined to use a dangerous crossing to head north.
More than 300 people, including dozens of children, were heading west toward a river that crosses the border, about five kilometers outside the village of Idomeni, where some 14,000 people are stranded at a sprawling camp.
They refused to turn back at a Greek police cordon outside the camp.
More than 40,000 people have been stranded in Greece after FYROM and other ex-Yugoslav countries closed their borders to migrants and refugees – prompting them to seek more dangerous crossings.
Underscoring the risks, police in FYROM said the bodies of two men and one woman, believed to be migrants, were found Monday in the Suva Reka river near the border with Greece. Twenty migrants crossed safely and another three were hospitalized, authorities said.
“This is the situation in which people have become desperate and frustrated,” said Ljubinka Brasnarska, a spokeswoman in FYROM for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.
“The border restrictions imposed by the countries have forced people to take desperate actions.”
Police and armed forces on the FYROM side of the border have stepped up patrols along parts of the newly-built border fence where migrants are likely to cross.
Parts of the fence are made up solely of coils of razor wire, while breaks in the barrier also occur at rivers and mountain slopes on the border, mainly to the east of Idomeni.
A cap on migrants imposed by Austria last month set off a domino effect of border closures across the Balkans, leaving thousands stranded in Greece.
Despite the closures, more 8,500 refugees and migrants traveled to the Greek islands from Turkey last week, according to the UNHCR.
In an interview published Sunday, Austria's foreign minister said border closures should be extended.
Sebastian Kurz told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the route leading through Italy to central Europe should also be blocked.
“Smuggling can't be prevented entirely … (so) we will have to do everything that we are now doing on the western Balkan route along the Italy-Mediterranean route too,” he said.
“The time of waving through refugees to central Europe is over.”