Hundreds injured on the Greece-FYROM border

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters
Hundreds injured on the Greece-FYROM border

Note: an update to this story including Greece’s reaction on Monday is available here

Athens condemns use of tear gas on migrants

  • Migrants and refugees storm the border
  • FYROM police fire tear gas in response
  • More than 250 are injured
  • “Dangerous and deplorable” – Greece
  • “We were provoked” – FYROM

What has happened?

Hundreds of migrants and refugees have been injured during a confrontation with police on the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Eyewitnesses say FYROM police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds on the Greek side of the fence separating the two countries.

Crowds had gathered at the fence near the camp in Idomeni.

Eyewitnesses say a small group tried to talk to the Macedonian border officials.

The officials refused to open the border and the group became angry, bystanders say.

Some started to make their way towards the border.

A Macedonian official said a large group of migrants left the camp and surged towards the fence.

Aid workers say they have treated people for exposure to tear gas. Other injuries have been reported.

In tweets

The injuries (from MSF)

  • 300 treated
  • 30 for rubber bullet wounds
  • More than 30 with open wounds
  • 200 with breathing difficulties from tear gas

Achilleas Tzemos, deputy field coordinator with the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), added that many women and children had respiratory problems caused by exposure to tear gas.

What Greece says

Greece says police on the FYROM side of the joint border used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to push the migrants back.

Athens says the use of force is unacceptable.

“The indiscriminate use of chemicals, rubber bullets and stun grenades against vulnerable populations, and particularly without reasons for such force, is a dangerous and deplorable act,” said George Kyritsis, a Greek government spokesman for migration coordination

“We urge the authorities of FYROM to comprehend the potential risks the use of violence against refugees and migrants entails.” he went on.

What FYROM says

FYROM authorities will only confirm the use of tear gas.

“They threw rocks at the Macedonian police. The police fired tear gas in response,” said a FYROM official on condition of anonymity.

“The migrants were pushing against the fence but standing on the Greek side of the border. The fence is still there, they have not broken through.”

Police in Skopje said three officers have been hurt.

A FYROM police spokesperson says the situation is now under control.

Why are people stuck on the border?

Migrants at the Idomeni camp are demanding the border with the FYROM be opened.

A cascading shutdown of borders has meant more than 10,000 people have been stranded at the camp since February.

The Greek authorities have been trying to persuade those at Idomeni to move to other reception camps.

However, many are refusing to go.

In the last year, more than a million people fleeing poverty and conflict in the Middle East have poured into Europe through Greece.

The EU is implementing an accord whereby all new arrivals will be sent back to Turkey if they do not meet the criteria for asylum.