September 2, 2015 3:01 PM EDT

Migrants who were trying to cross from Greece into Macedonia clashed with police at the border on Wednesday, protesting the chaos that left families separated on either side of a divider.

Photographer Valdrin Xhemaj described a frenzied scene to TIME, saying police had permitted groups of 50 people at a time to cross the border into Macedonia, inadvertently splitting up some families. Amid the confusion, migrants rushed the border, trying to reconnect with relatives and friends who had already been allowed across. The blistering Mediterranean sun did little to aid the situation, Xhemaj said.

“It’s hard to attack anybody,” he said of police treatment of migrants. “They were trying to do their best.”

In one particularly heart-wrenching moment (which Xhemaj captured in slide 4 above), a young boy looked up at his father in the midst of panic. His father tried to convey a sense of confidence in the midst of the turmoil, Xhemaj said.

Wednesday’s confrontation followed earlier clashes at the Greece-Macedonia border and came as several prominent incidents involving migrants traveling to Europe has drawn attention to the brutal, and at times deadly, treatment they face.

The migrants’ trip through Greece, a member of the European Union, and into Macedonia is one of many legs en route to the promise of work in western Europe.

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Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

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