NEW: 25 refugees drown off Turkish coast Sunday, 15 rescued
At least 12,000 refugees are stranded on Greek-Macedonian border
Macedonia now restricts refugee access by province, according to human right officials
Eight-year-old Hamze is the family clown among his six siblings, declaring he wants to be a teacher and then cheekily changing his answer to egg salesman, knowing it will generate laughter.
Thousands of refugee children like him find ways to pass the time as they wait to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia.
More than 12,000 people are stranded here in Idomeni, as borders across Europe have slowly been shutting in the face of those most vulnerable and fleeing from atrocities.
In this small Greek border town, bewildered and confused refugees wait. They sleep in hundreds of little brightly colored tents that have popped up on fields along the border, now demarcated by a double concertina wire fence.
Some tents are spray-painted with messages like “help us, it’s cold” and “borders are racist.” Refugees stand in long lines waiting for food, usually bread with a piece of cheese.
New restrictions and paperwork
It’s gotten harder in recent weeks for refugees to get across the border so they can continue toward what they hope will be safe havens like Germany and Sweden.
Macedonia is allowing only a few dozen Iraqis and Syrians to cross the border each day, which has created a backlog in Greece.
Stricter regulations about who can pass, and what kind of paperwork is required, have made it difficult even for Syrians to get through.
A spokesperson for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees told CNN on Sunday that office was told by the Greek border police that Macedonia will now restrict acceptance of refugees from Iraq and Syria by province.
The geographical restrictions would mean that Syrians from the provinces of Damascus, Homs, Qamishli, Latakia and Tartus as well as Iraqis from the provinces of Baghdad, Diyala and Kirkuk and from Iraqi Kurdistan would not be allowed to continue on the route.
The Macedonian government was not immediately available for comment on the restrictions.
ID left behind during escape from bombings
Even for refugees who fit the new restrictions, getting through can be daunting.
Ahmed is 27 years old. When airstrikes began hitting his neighborhood in Aleppo, he and his wife fled for their lives with their 1-year-old son. Now Ahmed is afraid his family may never get across the border.
He was lucky his ID was in his pocket when they fled, but his 20-year-old wife didn’t have a chance to grab hers.
“There were strikes and people ran away. I happened to have my ID in my pocket, hers was in the house. We ran away, people were running away barefoot,” he says, remembering the day they fled.
If they had known what would happen, Ahmed says, they never would have come. They were sold a dream by those who made the journey before them.
Now in a muddy field, with his family trying to stay warm and clean in a tent, with little chance of getting across the border, he cries when he thinks about his family.
Looking at his son, he sees the loved ones who have perished or been left behind. “I see my mother, my father, my brother. … I see the family.”
25 refugees drown off Turkish coast
And yet more asylum-seekers lost their lives Sunday – highlighting the dire situation of refugees.
At least 25 people trying to reach Greece drowned when their boat capsized off of Turkey’s western coast, according to Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency.
The boat was carrying refugees trying to illegally cross toward Greece and sank in the Aegean Sea near Didim, the news agency reported.
Fifteen people were rescued after the Turkish coast guard sent in three boats and a helicopter after hearing news about the capsizing.
So far this year, more than 418 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Last year, more than 3,700 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean in attempts to reach Europe, making it the deadliest year on record for such deaths.