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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
SKOPJE, MACEDONIA (BosNewsLife)– The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is planning to bury 14 undocumented migrants from Africa and Asia who died Thursday after they were hit by an overnight passenger train. Investigations are ongoing into the latest deadly tragedy involving young people on the Balkan route to Western Europe.
Police could be seen securing part of a narrow stretch of tracks sandwiched between Macedonia’s Vardar river and a steep slope near the town of Veles.
It was in this area where the driver of an overnight express train traveling from Thessaloniki in Greece to Serbia’s capital Belgrade made a horrific discovery.
Officials said he saw about 100 migrants walking on the tracks in the dark. The driver reportedly tried to stop. But it was too late. Here, the train hit the group of migrants who weren’t able to leave the tracks.
Authorities said the 14 dead appear to be mostly Somalis and Afghans in their 20s. Yet details remained uncertain as migrants often travel without identity cards to complicate deportation efforts if caught.
Police have detained nine migrants who remained at the scene and questioned them. They reportedly described clambering up rocky slopes or clinging to bushes on the riverbank to escape the train.
Survivors, include Mohamed from Mali. “It took me three months walking to come here, sometimes with no food,” he said.
Another frail young man, Mohammed Osman from Afghanistan, who also suffered. “There are a lot of dangers here,” he told reporters. “Also a lot of animals are here, and often we have been without food or water.”
Their ordeal underscores how many gamble with their lives by taking dangerous overland journeys to reach Hungary, a popular back door to the 28-nation European Union.
The Balkan route is seen as an alternative for the sea crossing from North Africa to Italy. Trains killed 40 migrants last year, compared to the more than 1,300 people who are known to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean over the past three weeks alone.