Greece has condemned the action of Macedonian police to disperse hundreds of migrants at the border between the two countries. Reports say that tear gas was used near the Idomeni crossing, where more than 11,000 refugees and other migrants are camped out on the Greek side of the border.
But there was some confusion over whether Greek police had also used tear gas.
The Balkan states closed off the migrant route to northern Europe this year. “The indiscriminate use of chemicals, rubber bullets and stun grenades against vulnerable populations… is a dangerous and deplorable act,” Greek government spokesman George Kyritsis said.
Aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said authorities had fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades at those trying to force their way into Macedonia.
“Dozens of people were hurt, mainly suffering respiratory problems, and three had to be taken to hospital,” MSF official Achileas Tzemos told the AFP news agency.
The unrest reportedly began after a group of migrants approached the fence to ask Macedonian border guards to open it and let them pass. When their demand was rejected, they were joined by others, some of whom were carrying packed bags.
Migrants could be seen running from clouds of tear gas just inside the Greek border, as well as hurling stones across the fence.
Reuters news agency, also quoting an unnamed Macedonian police official, said migrants had thrown stones at the Macedonian police.
“The police fired tear gas in response,” the official said. “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.”
Greece began deporting migrants who do not qualify for asylum, under an EU deal with Turkey. More than 300 people, many of them Pakistanis, were sent to Turkey by ferry from the Greek islands. In addition, nearly 100 were deported via Greece’s land border with Turkey, AFP reports.
The International Organisation for Migration said the rate of arrivals had dropped in the first week of April, with 5 April the first day since last year that no arrivals were recorded. More than a million undocumented refugees and other migrants have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece since early last year, generating an unprecedented crisis for the EU’s 28 member-states.