Greek police fire tear gas at refugees demanding access to border

Minor clashes outside camp in northern Greece after 'false report' about border opening circulated on social media.

    Greek police fire tear gas at refugees demanding access to border
    Migrants and refugees, who say that they seek to travel onward to northern Europe, walk away from a camp near Diavata [Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters]

    Police have used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse refugees and migrants during a second day of scuffles outside a camp in northern Greece.

    Since Thursday, hundreds of people stuck in Greece have arrived at a field next to the camp in Diavata, close to the second city of Thessaloniki, in the hope of travelling towards more prosperous countries in Northern Europe.

    The move was reportedly spurred by false posts on social media claiming that years-long movement restrictions had been lifted. 

    Minor clashes erupted on Thursday and Friday when security forces prevented the refugees and migrants from breaking a police cordon and heading towards the border with North Macedonia, some 60km to the north.

    Security forces formed a shield wall and made sporadic use of tear gas and stun grenades to keep them from advancing.

    Hashem Mojadam, a 36-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker, spent the night in the field and said he hoped to join others and walk to the border.

    "Everyone is tense and no one really slept," he told The Associated Press news agency. "We're hoping to go to another country because there is nothing for us here ... and we need a safe place."

    It has been estimated that more than 70,000 refugees and migrants have been trapped in Greece since Balkan countries along the northward overland route to Western Europe sealed their borders in March 2016.

    Most have submitted requests for asylum, clogging an already overburdened application system and further exacerbating approval delays that can stretch into years.

    Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas issued a plea to migrants to return to their camps in other parts of the country, officially known as hospitality centres.

    "There was a false report being distributed that the border would be opened. We have informed the hospitality centres that is not the case," Vitsas told state television.

    "As refugees and as people they have rights but they also an obligation to respect and abide by the laws of the country that is providing them hospitality."

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    Separately, dozens of refugees and migrants gathered earlier on Friday on the main railway station of the capital, Athens, shouting "Germany".

    They had bought tickets to Thessaloniki, intending to also travel to the Diavata camp before authorities realised the plan and halted the train.

    Some later set up tents on the platform and train services from the station were suspended.

    "We want to go to Thessaloniki and then to the borders," Amin Omar, a 27-year-old Iraqi Kurd sitting on the tracks, told the Reuters news agency. "We don't know if they are open."

    The station sit-in ended later on Friday.

    A senior migration ministry official said the events at the Larissis train station were intended as a "message" to the EU.

    "It's a message that Europe must understand that this is a problem demanding a European solution," said Miltiadis Klapas, general secretary of the migration ministry, according to the AFP news agency.

    "But it cannot be imposed like this," he added, referring to the sit-in.

    The incidents were reminiscent of the 2015 refugees crisis, when more than a million people attempted to reach Western Europe via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans.

    Separately, Turkish state media reported on Friday that hundreds of migrants were detained close to Turkey's borders with Europe on Thursday.

    Authorities held 406 migrants in Edrine province, bordering Greece and Bulgaria, while 200 people were arrested while trying to cross to Bulgaria irregularly, according to Anadolu Agency.

    Most of those arrested were Afghan, Pakistani Syrian and Iraqi nationals, it said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies