SKOPJE, Macedonia – Fourteen migrants believed to be from Afghanistan and Somalia who were heading north toward the European Union were killed by an express train as they walked along tracks in central Macedonia at night, police said Friday.
The group had been walking along tracks in a narrow gorge near the central Macedonian town of Veles at around 10:30 p.m. Thursday night when they were hit by an express passenger train heading from the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki to the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said the migrants were believed to have been part of a larger group of about 30-40 people. He said authorities had detained eight other migrants who were uninjured but remained in the area until police arrived. They were taken to Veles, where they were to be questioned by a prosecutor. The remaining survivors are believed to have fled.
Migrants and refugees using the overland route from Greece to central and Western Europe often use train tracks to guide them along their way and to evade police. Local media have reported five similar incidents along train tracks in Macedonia which left six migrants dead in November and December last year.
Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees attempt to reach the more prosperous central and western European countries by heading from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, then either try to sneak onto Italy-bound ferries, or head overland through Macedonia.
Although short, the sea journey from the Turkish coast is perilous, with smugglers overloading unseaworthy boats and often abandoning vessels after entering 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.