Europe Border Crisis: Order Reigns as Migrants and Refugees Reach Macedonia-Greece Border

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By Cassandra Vinograd

IDOMENI, Greece — Order and calm sometimes outweigh chaos on Europe's borders.

Thousands of migrants and refugees clustered along a thin railroad line in the Greek border town of Idomeni for hours with no shade on a recent afternoon. All had made long and dangerous journeys — most from Syria and Iraq — to get to this point.

Each belonged to a group of 50 travelers assigned a number and a captain. When the line of policemen ahead of them called out their number, it meant time to move into neighboring Macedonia. The crossing stood in stark contrast to the chaos and anger that reigned this week in Hungary, where thousands of migrants camped outside the Budapest train station for days.

Related: 'Refugees Welcome': Thousands Pour Across Austrian Border

On a recent afternoon there were more than 290 groups of 50 — that was before the numbers restarted from zero at around 10 p.m.

The waiting was orderly but surged each time a number came up. Some refugees pleaded to be let ahead, pointing to pregnant relatives or elderly in wheelchairs. There were a few scuffles as the hours progressed, but the policemen calmly stuck to the program: Every 30 minutes a new group was lined up, and seated to prepare for a crossing.

As the sun dipped, authorities used flashlights to signal when a new group could move forward to the barbed-wire border. Many of those waiting were children — they sprawled on the ground asleep, sometimes whimpering when woken up.

When their number came up, the refugees walked through — holding hands, pushing wheelchairs, carrying sleeping infants.

Entering Macedonia was a breeze: From the border they walked 10 minutes to a newly set up camp. There was a train waiting at the camp's gate to take them through the country to the next border: Serbia.

There, too, it was calm: Humanitarian volunteers waited at the station as the refugees piled off four hours later. "Serbia, that way," they said, pointing.

As dawn broke, a wave of refugees started moving toward the edge of the camp. Police ran to stop the crowd, but the sea of migrants surged and broke into a run.

The policemen couldn't catch them — one raised his hands up as if in surrender, letting them continue across the border.

The sprinting masses soon settled into a steady stream, calm once more as the journey continued.