Machine-gun toting, baton-wielding, grenade-throwing police clashed with thousands of refugees attempting to enter former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) for a second day Saturday. Riot police fired stun grenades and tear gas, injuring an unknown number of of people. Children and adults cried and screamed for loved ones separated from them in the border clashes. Migrants are fleeing United States-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, where the U.S. is attempting to overthrow the Assad government.
“These are refugees in search of protection and must not be stopped from doing so,” stated United Nations Chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming. Greek authorities are refusing migrants the human right to stay in the country and instead, sending them directly to the Macedonian border.
Friday night, police had allowed only small groups of families with children to cross the border by walking on railway tracks to a station in the Macedonian town of Gevgelija, where most take trains to the border with Serbia before heading further north toward EU-member Hungary. Refugees unable to cross Friday night spent the rainy and chilly night in the open with little food, massed close to razor wire separating them from Macedonian police officers. Some refugee parents raised their babies above their heads in attempt to persuade police officers to let them through.
“These men are heartless,” said Yousef, a Syrian refugee who gave only his first name, as he held a little wide-eyed girl with curly hair in his arms and pointed toward the policemen. “They don’t care about our tragedy.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres spoke to Macedonia’s foreign minister and “received assurances that the border will not be closed in the future”, the Geneva-based agency said in a statement. UNHCR called on authorities in Greece to provide urgent assistance to “people stranded on the Greek side of the border” and help them move toward refugee reception facilities further from the border with its Balkan neighbor.
Despite those assurances, however, on Saturday, an even larger crowd rushed toward the border when police allowed a small group of migrants with young children in Greece to cross the frontier. Crowds in the back squeezed others toward the shielded police wall. Many women, at least one pregnant, and children fell to the ground. Thousands of others, including women with babies and men carrying small children, used the moment to run across a field not protected by barbed wire to enter Macedonia. Police fired stun grenades, failing to stop the desperate rush. No immediate reports were made on the number and extent of injuries.
The riot police grenades set off clouds of smoke, sending panicked refugees running for cover. Some were injured as they fell to the ground and one youth’s face was covered in blood, according to Middle East North Africa Financial Network.
Many children in the chaos were separated from their parents and left shouting, “Mama.” Several hundred, mostly elderly and children remained locked into the Greek side of the border when police restored order.
Near the Greek border village of Edomeni, police in riot gear beat the migrants back with truncheons and threw stun grenades, devices that produce a blinding flash of light and a huge noise to disorient targets.
Macedonian police are attempting to block the refugees from heading north toward the European Union. Friday, a day after Macedonia’s government declared a state of emergency on the frontier to stop the human tide, police fired stun grenades and clashed with migrants injuring at least 10 people.
As U.S.-led overt wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the U.S.-led covert war in Syria have escalated in nearby nations, Greece and Macedonia have seen unprecedented refugee waves this year. More than 160,000 refugee arrived in Greece, most crossing in inflatable dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast. The influx has overwhelmed Greek authorities and the country’s small Aegean islands.
Some 45,000 crossed through Macedonia during the past two months. Few, if any, want to stay in Greece amid its financial crisis. Most head straight to the northern border with Macedonia, where they cram onto trains and head north through Serbia and Hungary on their way to more prosperous EU countries such as Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden.
A police officer told The Associated Press that the force is only following government’s orders to block refugees from entering the country. “Until we receive another order, the situation here will remain like this,” said the officer, unnamed because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Heavy rain poured. Some refugees shouted insults at policemen in camouflage fatigues. Others sheltered in dozens of small tents or under a few trees on a muddy field.