Police on the Greece/Macedonia border used tear gas and stun grenades against thousands of migrants trying to enter from Greece on Friday after a night spent stranded on the closed frontier between the two countries.
The violent clash comes 24-hours after Macedonia declared a state of emergency in two border regions to cope with an influx of migrants from the Middle East. An estimated three thousand men, women and children spent the night stuck on Macedonia’s southern frontier and tried to charge police this morning.
From there, they planned to catch trains that would take them to the Serbian border and on to Hungary, where they would benefit from Europe’s borderless Schengen zone.
Reuters reports that tear gas was fired and at least four migrants taken back for treatment on the Greek side of the border.
The flow into Macedonia had reached 1,500-2,000 per day in recent weeks, up from some 200 daily in May. As Breitbart London previously reported this has caused chaotic scenes of crowds wrestling to board packed trains at a nearby railway station, with children squeezed through open carriage windows.
Reuters reporters on the border said tensions quickly subsided, but a crowd of at least 1,000 remains in no-man’s land at the entrance to Macedonia, their path blocked by riot police with armoured vehicles.
Macedonia’s tough stance comes from its claim that it cannot deal with the influx of migrants moving from their Mediterranean landing points in Greece and Italy and heading across the Continent for EU countries that will guarantee them asylum. The situation is not aided by a tense relationship between Macedonia and Greece, rooted in a dispute over Macedonia’s name since it declared independence from socialist Yugoslavia in 1991.
Macedonia has confronted refugee crises before, most notably in 1999 during the war in Serbia’s then southern province of Kosovo when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians took shelter in refugee camps on Macedonia’s northern border.
Now the army and security forces are being used because of the sheer numbers of people involved. Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said:
“We expect the involvement of the army will bring two desired effects – it will increase security among our citizens in the two regions and will allow for a more comprehensive approach toward people expressing their interest in applying for asylum.”
On Wednesday, Macedonia warned that it is running out of trains to transport refugees heading toward the EU and called on its neighbours to help combat the “alarming situation.”
“The Macedonian Railway Company has no more capacity to carry all those who want to travel toward western European countries,” the head of the state railway, Nikola Kostov, told Telma TV channel, urging neighbouring countries and others to provide more train carriages.
The problem may worsen with the potential arrival of thousands who are being evacuated by boat from the Greek island of Kos to the mainland, after 21,000 people landed on its shores last week and caused chaos on the small holiday island.
“Depending on how Greece uses ships to decongest the islands that will also temporarily increase the arrivals here,” said Alexandra Krause, senior protection officer at the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Macedonian capital Skopje.
“The [Macedonian] government needs to provide an appropriate site to be able to shelter the arrivals properly and to ensure sufficient assistance.”
The current scene on the border can be seen in this tweet:
— 3 (@ta33ec) August 21, 2015
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