Dozens of people were hurt on Sunday when police fired tear gas on a group of migrants as they tried to break through a fence on the Greece-Macedonia border, the medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) said.
Macedonian police used tear gas, stun grenades, plastic bullets and later a water cannon in attempts to keep the migrants at bay and they responded by throwing rocks at the police. Twice, migrants tried to breach the fence but were pushed back. Greek police were standing by, not interfering.
Clashes continued into the afternoon, and the wind brought tear gas fumes into a nearby makeshift camp on the Greek side of the border holding over 11,000 stranded migrants. Many people, including small children, who were not involved in the clashes, were suffering from respiratory problems.
Volunteer doctors were treating several dozen migrants with respiratory problems, slight injuries from the plastic bullets and facial injuries from close quarter clashes when the fence was temporarily breached, Achilleas Tzemos, deputy field coordinator of Doctors Without Borders told The Associated Press. He said three were referred to hospitals.
Tzemos also said several of the migrants were injured by plastic bullets but Macedonian police denied using such ammunition.
“We are using all allowed chemical means,” police spokeswoman Liza Bendevska told AFP.
“We are not using any kind of bullets as they are in Macedonia forbidden by law. We are not using batons as we are on the other side of the fence,” she said.
A Macedonian police source told the AFP three officers were injured by stones thrown by protesting migrants.
Meanwhile the Greek government on Sunday warned against the use of force on migrants.
“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,” George Kyritsis, a spokesman for migration coordinators in the Greek government, told Reuters.
Fliers in Arabic called for demonstrations
The clashes began soon after some 500 migrants gathered close to the fence. Activists had distributed fliers, in Arabic, Saturday, calling for the migrants to gather at the fence Sunday morning.
A delegation of five migrants asked Macedonian police whether the border was about to open. When Macedonian police denied this, over a hundred migrants, including several children, tried to scale the fence.
Macedonia and other Balkan countries to its north have shut their borders, closing what was the busiest migrant route to central Europe. The European Union has since put an end to the hopes of many migrants, saying it would only accept war refugees from Syria and Iraq as well as those from other countries who are eligible for asylum.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)
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