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VELES, Macedonia — Fourteen suspected migrants walking in the dark along train tracks toward the European Union were killed by a nighttime express train in a remote river gorge in Macedonia, police said Friday.
The migrants, from Afghanistan and Somalia, were part of a larger group that had been walking north of the central Macedonian town of Veles Thursday night when a passenger train traveling from the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki to the Serbian capital of Belgrade struck them.
"The train driver tried to stop, but it was too late and the train hit the group of migrants who weren't able to leave the tracks," said Nikola Kostov, general manager of Macedonian Railways.
Migrants using an overland route from Greece through the Balkans to Hungary often use the train tracks as a path to guide them. They most commonly walk in darkness — though the dangers of being hit by a train are greater at night — to avoid detection by police. Although considered a safer route than crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, the Balkans route for migrants still is fraught with danger.
Kostov said Macedonian trains struck and killed 40 migrants last year, when the Balkans route experienced a sudden surge in pedestrian traffic driven by refugees from conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.