Thousands of migrants and refugees have broken through police lines on Macedonia’s southern border, Sky News reports. Officers threw stun grenades at the crowd, but were unable to contain them. Several thousand people – many fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – ran past barbed wire fences and into fields in the Balkan country. The chaos started when police allowed a small group of migrants with young children to cross the border from Greece.
Crowds at the back pushed forward in an attempt to get through. Several people were injured in the crush.The Macedonia-Greece border has seen desperate scenes in recent days, as people were stopped from heading north towards western Europe. On Thursday, Macedonian authorities declared a state of emergency at Gevgelija, with police sealing the border and firing tear gas and stun grenades at the crowds.
Conditions deteriorated on Saturday, with people having to spend a cold night outside, under heavy rain and with little or no access to food and water.Around 600 people were allowed through on Friday night, in a train towards Serbia. But more arrived on foot at the border, including many Syrian refugees who had stepped off a boat from the Greek islands, which have seen some 50,000 arrivals in July alone.
Macedonian officials had said they must ration entry to control the tide of up to 2,000 people a day but the UN High Commission (UNHCR) for Refugees urged the country to open its border and give more help to those waiting.Alexandra Krause, a senior protection officer with the UNHCR, said: “People are exhausted. It has rained all night and they had no shelter.” Macedonia has experience of dealing with large numbers of refugees.
Thousands of Albanians were housed at refugee camps on its border during the 1999 war in neighbouring Kosovo. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is unpopular and faces an early election in April, but it is thought he could win support for taking a strict line with Greece for letting thousands of migrants and refugees come through. The two countries do not have a happy relationship, a dispute rooted in Greece’s refusal to recognise Macedonia’s name after it broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.