Hundreds of migrants injured in clashes on Macedonia-Greece border

Hundreds of migrants injured in clashes on Macedonia-Greece border
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 11, 2016

Around 260 migrants and 23 members of the Macedonian security forces were injured in clashes on the border with Greece near Gevgelija on April 10, when a large group of migrants tried to cross into Macedonia after rumours that the border had been opened.

More than 11,000 migrants are still stranded at the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek side of the border. Macedonia and other countries on the Western Balkans route closed their borders in early March to put an end to the uncontrolled influx of migrants and refugees.

At around 10.30 CET on April 10, a group of between 500 and 1,200 migrants forcibly entered Macedonian territory and the police acted accordingly, using tear gas to disperse the crowd, Natalija Spirova-Kordic, the head of interior ministry’s department on matters of protocol, told bne IntelliNews.

The incident started when migrants verbally attacked police officers and then began to throw stones and other objects at officers, Kordic noted.

14 policemen and nine soliders were injured. Four or five Macedonian policemen received serious injuries and are being treated at the hospital in the southern city of Gevgelija, Kordic said.

Three police vehicles and other police equipment were also damaged in the incident. Kordic gave no information about the number of migrants who were injured, as they were quickly withdrawn from the site and taken back to Greek territory.

However, according to news portal MKD, which cited sources from the aid organisation Doctors without Borders, some 260 migrants were injured in clashes with the Macedonian police. Broadcaster Telma, citing the Greek media, reported that around a dozen migrants had been treated for respiratory problems.

At 14.45 CET on April 10, Macedonian police raised the security level after receiving information that the migrants had prepared Molotov cocktails to attack police officers, the ministry said.

The situation at the Macedonian-Greek border is still tense, Kordic said late on April 10.

The interior ministry said in a statement that the Greek police did not intervene to prevent the incident.

The Macedonian foreign ministry said on April 10 that various reports suggest that the incident was initiated and organised by NGO activists. It accuses activists of distributing leaflets with fake information saying that if migrants managed to enter Macedonian territory by force they would be able to continue on their way to northern Europe. The motive for issuing the leaflets was not clear.

The fence that was erected from the Macedonian side of the border was damaged in several places, the ministry added.

This is not the first incident on the Macedonian-Greek border since the start of the migrant crisis. On March 14, three illegal migrants drowned in the Suva Reka river near Gevgelija as they tried to cross into Macedonia from Greece.