SKOPJE, Macedonia — Fourteen migrants in their 20s believed to be from Afghanistan and Somalia were killed by an express train as they walked along the tracks through a narrow gorge in central Macedonia at night, police said Friday.
The migrants, part of a larger group of about 30 to 40 people heading north toward the European Union, were walking north of the central Macedonian town of Veles at around 10:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) Thursday when they were hit by an express passenger train heading from the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki to the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Migrants and refugees using the overland route from Greece to central and Western Europe often use the train tracks to guide them along their way and to evade police. It is fraught with danger but considered a safer route than crossing from Libya to Italy via the Mediterranean, where more than 1,300 migrants are believed to have drowned in the past three weeks.
Such accidents have occurred in the past in Macedonia, though not with such a high death toll. The group had been heading north near the village of Rajko Zinziofov, where the tracks pass through a narrow gorge with the Vardar River on their right and steep rocky slopes on their left. The survivors were those who managed to clamber up the slope or cling to bushes along the river bank, authorities said.
Eight survivors who were uninjured and in the area when police arrived were detained and taken to Veles to be questioned by a prosecutor, said police spokesman Ivo Kotevski. The remaining survivors are believed to have fled.
The Veles prosecutor handling the case, Slavica Temelkovski, said the migrants who were killed were all aged between 20 and 30. There was no immediate information on whether they were men or women, or on their identities. The bodies of those killed were to be buried in a Muslim graveyard in Veles, she said.
Local media have reported five similar incidents along train tracks 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 each year by heading from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, then either trying to sneak onto 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 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.