Athens, Greece – On Monday, Police in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia fired several rounds of tear gas to more than 7,000 refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq. The immigrants who had been trapped between Greece and Macedonia for weeks were desperately trying to cross the border from Greece when the police reacted.
As an intend to reach Germany, a group of asylum seekers tore down a razor-wire fence screaming “Open the border!”, others sat refusing to move demanding to cross into the country while armed police officers fired tear gas into the crowds.
Greece set up temporary accommodation for thousands of migrants stranded in the country after Austria and countries along the Balkans migration route imposed restrictions on their borders, limiting the number of migrants able to cross.
Thousands of people have been gathering at Idomeni, the small frontier community on Greece’s border with Macedonia, for days. Although it was announced that 500 people will cross daily, on Saturday, less than 220 were accepted, on Sunday 305, and on Monday just 50.
“What is going to happen to us? I cry every day; I have a wife and my baby is sick,” says Mohammed who has been stuck at the borders for eight weeks. “My number is 65, I am next but how long are we going to wait?” he added.
Protests since Saturday
On Saturday, the first protests formed mostly by Iraqis started calm and peaceful. The first demonstration was planned for 10:30 in the morning, but as the people dispersed, they already started to prepare for the next one scheduled for noon. The protests continued on Sunday, as refugees decided to shut the train line.
On Monday, people started gathering on the train track. Hundreds gathered in front of the sliding fenced gateway, which was placed in order to let trains from Greece enter Macedonia. As the first Greek police blockade broke, hundreds started running towards the border crossing. Those on the frontline were holding a battering ram in the hope of tearing down the fence.
Reuters television images showed how the crowds gathered at the razor wire fence used a heavy metal pole to bring down a gate. At least two people collapsed in the crash and ensuing use of tear gas.
Migration policies for refugees not welcome by every Europe nation
Even though there might be divided opinions on the issue, Greece and Germany have stayed open to receiving migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.
More than one million migrants passed through Greece last year. There were an estimated 22,000 migrants and refugees trapped in Greece on Monday, some sleeping rough in central Athens, some in an abandoned airport and at the 2004 Olympic Games venues and Greece’s migration minister said that figure could rise as high as 70,000 in coming days.
On the other hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended on Sunday her open-door policy for migrants, rejecting any limit on the number of refugees allowed into her country despite divisions within her government.
“There are many conflicting interests in Europe,” she said. “But it is my damn duty to do everything I can so that Europe finds a collective way.”