Dozens wounded in refugee camp clashes with Macedonian police

Tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets were fired on a crowd of more than 500 people who had gathered at the fence at the makeshift camp of Idomeni.

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More than ten thousand migrants and refugees have been living at the sprawling tent camp in Greece since February, stranded there after a cascade of border shutdowns throughout the Balkans.

Migrants at Idomeni are demanding that the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be opened, but no migrants have been allowed through for weeks.

The escalation in tensions that have been simmering for weeks came after more than 500 people gathered at the fence.

Syrian migrant Mahmoud says Macedonian forces shot at him with a rubber bullet at close range and broke his arm during the outbreak of violence.

“We were surprised that even before we reached the fence and before we did anything on our part, that they fired tear gas immediately. So we were dispersed but there was a reaction. The tear gas was used and very closely followed by firing stun grenades and rubber bullets. It was not gradual, they used it all immediately one after the other and this caused a negative reaction from the protesters and angered them and enraged them.”

Jonas Hagensen, from medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, described the aftermath of the clashes.

“We treated around 200 people for tear gas, mostly men, but also women and children under five years old. We had around 34 trauma patients, we also had some people come in with body pains, bruises, that they claim were from beatings from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia police. We also referred I think around seven patients to the local hospital with open wounds, suspected fractures and more serious injuries.”

Spokesman for migration coordinators in the Greek government, George Kyritsis, has described the use of force by Macedonian authorities as unacceptable.

“The extensive use of tear gas, stun grenades and even rubber bullets indiscriminately amidst women and children and for hours, is a deplorable and extremely dangerous practice, and we believe that the authorities of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia need to understand the risks inherent in attacking refugees and migrants in such a way. At the same time, we call on refugees not to trust or believe the lies that, in a criminal negligent way, they are told regarding the borders. They must understand that the borders are closed.”

More than a million people have poured into Europe, mainly through Greece, in the past year.

The European Union is implementing an accord under which all new arrivals to Greece will be sent back to Turkey if they don’t meet asylum criteria.