Hundreds of refugees breach Macedonia border

Rain-soaked refugees cross border from Greece as police use stun grenades for second day to try to stop them.

Hundreds of refugees in Greece have forced their way over the Macedonian border as police fired stun grenades in a failed bid to stop them breaking through.

For the second day in a row, police fired stun grenades and clashed with refugees trying to rush over the border between Greece and Macedonia.

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Idomeni, on the Greek side of the border, said he heard seven loud blasts from his position 150m away.

The AFP news agency said the refugees scrambled over barbed wire fences on Saturday as the border guards tried to stop them.

Thousands of rain-soaked refugees have been trapped in a no man’s land since Thursday.

Overnight on Friday, police had let small groups of families with children cross the border by walking to a railway station in the Macedonian town of Gevgelija, where most take trains to the border with Serbia, before heading towards EU-member Hungary.

Those who could not cross, including many women and children, spent the rainy and chilly night in the open, the AP news agency reported.

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Hull said large numbers of Syrians had earlier moved back from the point of crossing to separate themselves from other nationalities. 

“They want to separate themselves from the other nationalities; the Pakistanis, the Afghans, the Iraqis…what they say is that all these other nationalities claim to be Syrians as well, because it is the Syrians who have the most valid claim to asylum.

“They are refugees, they are fleeing civil war. Many of the others, they say, are economic migrants.”

Violent clashes

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, the head of Amnesty International in Greece, told Al Jazeera that the Macedonian police were treating refugees as though they were rioters.

“Authorities must be able to make a distinction. These are people entitled to international protection,” he said.

Police had first fired stun grenades and clashed with the refugees on Friday, a day after Macedonia’s government declared a state of emergency on the frontier to deal with the issue.

Ivo Kotevsky, a spokesman for the interior ministry, told Al Jazeera that the officers had not used violence against the refugees but had been forced to take measures to protect themselves and the border.

Kotevsky said Macedonia was trying to do its best in protecting the refugees, who had been “practically expelled from Greece”.

Desperate migrants in Macedonia fight for place on train

The refugees hope that by crossing to Macedonia they would be able to take trains through Serbia to Hungary, an EU member, which has begun erecting a fence to try to keep the distraught refugees out.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) urged the Macedonian government to do more, saying it should allocate a site to accommodate people fleeing war.

UNHCR spokesman Petros Mastakas told Al Jazeera that the refugees included “hundreds of vulnerable persons, children, babies and those with extreme vulnerabilities including medical needs.

“Most of them stay rough in the open air,” he said.

A girl cries as she tries to take shelter from the rain on Greece's border with Macedonia [Reuters]
A girl cries as she tries to take shelter from the rain on Greece’s border with Macedonia [Reuters]
A Syrian refugee woman cries on her husbands arms as they wait to cross into Macedonia at the Greek-Macedonian border [Reuters]
A Syrian refugee woman cries on her husbands arms as they wait to cross into Macedonia at the Greek-Macedonian border [Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies