Macedonian troops fire flashbangs at border migrants
Macedonian special police forces fired stun grenades Friday to disperse thousands of migrants stuck on a no-man’s land with Greece, a day after declaring a state of emergency on its border to deal with a massive influx of migrants heading north to the European Union.
A crowd of 3,000 migrants who spent night out in the open made several attempts Friday to charge Macedonian police after the border was shut to crossings the previous day. At least eight people were injured in the melee, according to Greek police.
One youngster was bleeding from what appeared to be shrapnel from the stun grenades that were fired directly into the crowd.
Police backed by armored vehicles also spread coils of razor wire over rail tracks used by migrants to cross on foot from Greece to Macedonia.
The migrants, many with babies and young children, spent the chilly and windy night in a dust field without food and with little water. Some ate corn they picked from nearby fields.
“I don’t know why are they doing this to us,” said Mohammad Wahid of Iraq. “I don’t have passport or identity documents. I cannot return and have nowhere to go. I will stay here till the end.”
Greece has seen an unprecedented wave of migrants this year, the vast majority fleeing war and conflict in Syria and Afghanistan. More than 160,000 have arrived so far, mostly crossing in inflatable dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast — an influx that has overwhelmed Greek authorities and the country’s small Aegean islands.
Yet few, if any, of the migrants arriving want to remain in Greece, a country in the grip of a financial crisis. The vast majority head straight to the country’s northern border with Macedonia, where they cram onto trains and head north through Serbia and Hungary on their way to the more prosperous EU countries such Germany, the Netherlands and those in Scandinavia.
Macedonian police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said both police and the army would control the 50-kilometer (30-mile) border stretch to stop a “massive” influx of migrants coming from Greece.
“This measure is being introduced for the security of citizens who live in the border areas and for better treatment of the migrants,” he said Thursday.
Until now, the border has been porous, with only a few patrols on each side. Sealing it disrupts the Balkan cor- ridor for migrants who start in Turkey, take boats to Greece or walk to Bulgaria, then make their way through Macedonia or Serbia heading north to the EU.
Almost 39,000 migrants, most of them Syrians, have registered as passing through Macedonia over the past month, double the number from the month before.
“We want to go to Germany to find a new life because everything has been destroyed in Syria,” said Amina Asmani of Syria, holding her husband’s hand and watching her 10-day-old son, who was born on a Greek island during her journey.
A migrant boy eats corn near the border train station of Idomeni, northern Greece, as he waits to be allowed by the Macedonian police to cross the border from Greece to Macedonia, Friday, Aug. 21.