15 April 2016

On Sunday 10 April, refugees and migrants, stranded at the closed border crossing between Greece and FYROM in Idomeni, gathered in front of the fence holding signs and placards protesting against the border closure. The protest remained peaceful for a few hours, but later erupted into violence, when Macedonian police started to fire tear gas into Greek territory to disperse the crowd.


According to witnesses on the ground, a small group of refugees talked to the Macedonian police, asking them to open the border. After a negative reply, some walked towards the fence and some – according to a Macedonian official – started to throw rocks at it. In response, the police fired tear gas and continued to do so for over two hours, also using rubber bullets and water cannons against refugees on the Greek side. Many people were allegedly beaten by the Macedonian police.

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) treated over 300 people, including 30 children for injuries caused by exposure to the gas and rubber bullets. “The MSF clinic has been full all day. Three children were brought in with head injuries due to rubber bullets. People outside were shouting and many of them were carrying rubber bullets in their hands,” said Conor Kenny, MSF doctor in Idomeni, “A pregnant woman from Syria came into the clinic with her two children; she told me she was close to the border when tear gas was used to disperse the crowd, people started to run and she fell down.”

Greek authorities, including Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, condemned the violence at the border and called FYROM’s actions shameful. UNHCR also condemned FYROM’s actions.

On Tuesday, security was tightened in and around Idomeni and the Greek police arrested several foreign volunteers who have allegedly provided wrong information to the refugees and incited them to break the fence. Most of them were released briefly afterwards. Violence sparked up again on Wednesday, with refugees trying to take down the razor wire fence, and Macedonian police again firing tear gas on the crowd. On Thursday, the Greek army staged military exercises in several locations across the country, and according to some sources on the ground, war jets were seen flying over Idomeni.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 April 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.