Refugees, Police Hurt in Clashes at Macedonian-Greek Border

  • More than 20 policemen, hundreds of migrants injured
  • Situation at Greek-Macedonian border calm Monday, police said

The Republic of Macedonia accused aid groups of organizing an attempt to send refugees across the border and Greece condemned its northern neighbor’s actions after clashes injured hundreds of migrants and 23 security officers.

Macedonian police used tear gas to disperse what it called “violent” groups of migrants who tried to cross the border, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday. While it said no migrants were injured on Macedonian soil, the non-governmental aid group Doctors Without Borders said it treated 300 injured people after the clashes. That included 200 people with breathing issues because of tear gas and 40 people who were struck by rubber bullets, the group said.

Without specifying any groups, Macedonia said activists were involved in “organized, massive and coordinated attempts of illegal border crossing,” the ministry said. Leaflets were distributed containing “false information that once someone manages to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, by using violence, they will be able to continue to journey to the EU with no further impediments,” it said.

Tensions on the border between the two Balkan nations have escalated since last month, when Greece’s northern neighbors closed their borders to prevent migrants arriving from Turkey from traveling further into the European Union. Greece has pledged to send back migrants under an EU-Turkish arrangement. But many are refusing and about 11,000 people are still gathered near the Greek border town of Idomeni hoping the frontier will reopen, raising the risk of further clashes.

“The use of chemicals, rubber bullets and stun grenades by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian forces against vulnerable people and without force majeure is a dangerous and condemnable action,” George Kyritsis, the Greek government spokesman for the refugee crisis, told state-run Athens News Agency Sunday. “We call on the FYROM authorities to realize the potential risks of use of violence against refugees and immigrants.”

Macedonia said it asked Greece for help and “preventive action to dissuade the violent rioting of migrants and illegal border crossing from Greece into Macedonian territory.” The situation at the border was calm on Monday, Macedonian police spokesman Toni Angelovski said by phone.

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