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Thousands Of Migrants Stage Protests Along Closed Greek-Macedonian Border

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Poor weather had been expected to hamper the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece, but that hasn't happened. Rescuers in the Mediterranean picked up 2,000 people yesterday alone. They were on rafts and small boats on their way to Italy, having come from or through Libya. It was the largest number intercepted and their way to Italy in more than a month. 900,000 migrants made their way to Europe so far this year, seeking jobs and security. They've come from everywhere, sub-Saharan Africa to Pakistan. Many are refugees fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And as they attempt to get to EU countries like Germany, many are now being stopped at the borders of countries like Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia. Near the Greek village of Idomeni on the Macedonian border, about 3,000 people from Pakistan, Morocco, Somalia and Iran are living in a camp. The UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, is there, but conditions are poor, and there have been clashes. Here's what it sounded like last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Open border, open border, open border.

MCEVERS: They are chanting open border. That's because the only people being allowed to cross at this point are refugees from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. This recording was made by reporter Scott Carrier, who has been to this camp a couple of times.

SCOTT CARRIER: It's actually in a farm field right at the Greece-Macedonia border. And there are railroad tracks passing right by this farm field, and that's where people are assembled for this protest, is on the tracks.

MCEVERS: But people are also living there. I mean, what are the conditions like?

CARRIER: There are three large, white UNHCR tents, and there are many camping tents on or next to the railroad tracks. And it's cold now, so people are burning fires. And the fires are made from plastic and railroad ties, so the smoke is toxic.

MCEVERS: And they were upset and they were protesting. And during this protest, you actually talked to one Iranian man.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We are really in a hard situation, actually, because we have kids. So we can't live in here anymore. And we will block this railway. If the train is coming, we will die, but never we go back to the Iran because we are in the danger.

MCEVERS: We can't corroborate his story, but was he basically saying that he's fleeing political persecution in Iran?

CARRIER: Yeah, that was what they were saying.

MCEVERS: I mean, some of the people from Iran in this camp had actually sewn their lips shut in protest. Is that right?

CARRIER: Yeah, I was told seven men sewed their lips shut. I saw only three.

MCEVERS: And what was the reason that they gave for doing that?

CARRIER: The reason was to get people paying attention to the fact that they've come all this way, and now they can't go any farther.

MCEVERS: Let's hear another person from this protest.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What is the difference between we Iranian and Afghan people and Iraqi? We are all human. Tell the president of the United States, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, anyone that you know that has got power to do something for us.

MCEVERS: So you know these people. You met them, and they give you their names, but they told you that they didn't want to be identified. Is that right?

CARRIER: Yeah. They are nervous, and they're a little frightened that they might be tracked down, especially if they can't go any farther.

MCEVERS: You said you went once, and then you went back again. What are people saying that they're going to do if they can't go back home again?

CARRIER: They're committed to staying there until the border open. The think, with enough people pushing on that border, enough pressure, that things will change.

MCEVERS: Was there any sense that the numbers are increasing?

CARRIER: The numbers are increasing. The people keep arriving even though the border's closed. They're either not reading the news reports, or they're reading them, and they're just hoping that it's not true or hoping that conditions will change, that the decision will be changed.

MCEVERS: That's Scott Carrier in Copenhagen. He produces the podcast "Home Of The Brave." Thanks a lot, Scott.

CARRIER: Thank you, Kelly.

MCEVERS: Macedonia's Interior Ministry did confirm that, since the terrorist attacks last month in Paris, Macedonia is following the lead of Croatia and Serbia in only allowing refugees from, quote, "war-torn countries." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.