Idomeni.- (AFP, AP, ANA-MPA)
Hundreds of migrants, egged on by activists, are protesting near the fence separating Macedonia from Greece, demanding that the border be opened to allow them to continue their journey into central Europe.
Greek riot police are standing between the fence and the protesters, who are chanting “Open the borders!” and holding placards. Macedonian police are also standing ready in case the border is breached.
About 11,500 refugees have been stranded in a makeshift camp in the Greek border town of Idomeni after the European Union effectively endorsed the Balkan countries’ moves to seal their borders, shutting down the busiest migrant route.
The Greek government hopes the Idomeni camp will be evacuated by the end of April and that migrants will move to “transit centers” set up throughout Greece
Several hundred Iraqis and Syrians in the Idomeni border camp stood between protesters and police on Sunday, thwarting the protesters’ efforts to march toward the fence separating Greece from Macedonia. Scuffles broke out between the two groups.
The protesters twice broke through the barrier the Iraqis and Syrians have formed, only to be pushed back by Greek riot police who used only their shields.
People speaking for the Iraqis and Syrians, including Kurds from both countries, have told police that they are not taking part in Sunday’s protest and that the protesters are from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also say that activists were circulating at the camp Saturday, urging people to join the
“There were people, whom we do not know, telling us that they would help us open the border at noon today, but obviously this was not true,” Syrian refugee Hassan Fatuhlla told The Associated Press.
Fatuhlla, one of those who have formed a chain around the police, has been at the camp for 37 days. His child was born in a tent 10 days ago, he said.
Iraqis and Syrians are allowed into the European Union as war refugees, although the route through the Balkans is now closed and refugees discouraged from taking the perilous sea journey to Greek islands from Turkey.
Leftist activists from Greece and other European countries have staged protests outside the transit centers and appear determined to sabotage the deal.
The rumors spread by them that the border would open Sunday led some people who had gone to the centers to return to Idomeni. These people then protesting that the border has not opened.
Greek police said they stopped two buses and 10 cars carrying Italian activists slightly over 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the border protest.
Greece said Saturday it has begun emptying the main migrant camp on its border with FyroM, as the huge tide of refugees flooding into the country slows to a trickle following the EU-Turkey deal.
On Friday, the number of new arrivals was 161, down to 78 on Saturday, according to official numbers given by the Greek government, while the number of migrants in Greece was 50,236.
Greek authorities have used the relative calm to put in place logistics to send people back, including the deployment of 4,000 security personnel and asylum experts.
All new arrivals in Greece are being taken to registration centres set up on five Aegean islands.
Those seeking asylum will stay there while their applications are considered by Greek and European officials.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council have all criticised the EU-Turkey deal on ethical grounds and scaled back some of their activities.
In 2015 more than a million migrants entered Europe, about half of them Syrians fleeing war, with Germany shouldering most of the burden.
Of these, around 850,000 people made the sea crossing to Greece from Turkey — a route that also claimed more than 300 lives.
Refugees are also trying their luck on the Greek-Albanian border.
Albanian police arrested on Saturday 7 Syrian refugees who had entered Albania from Greece, Athens News Agency reports.
Greece arrests six people
for forging asylum
Greek police arrested six people on Saturday in an operation to break up a gang which counterfeited documents for asylum seekers on a Greek island, the coastguard said.
The criminal group was active on the island of Kos, the coastguard said in a statement, adding that the authorities seized computers, cameras and a large number of fake documents and mobile phones from several houses on the island.
About one million refugees and migrants arrived to Greece last year, fleeing conflict in the Middle East and beyond and seeking to reach wealthier Western European countries.
The European Union and Turkey have agreed to stop the flow of migrants to Europe in return for political and financial concessions for Ankara, sealing off the main route by which people poured across the Aegean islands, including Kos.
Syrian woman gives
birth at Greek
A 24-year-old Syrian woman has given birth to a girl at the sprawling Greek migrant encampment in Idomeni, near the border with FyroM.
The birth, in a tent lying on the railway tracks, was assisted by volunteers from the aid group Doctors of the World. The woman has two other children.
More than 11,500 migrants and refugees are still at the makeshift camp, even though FyroM has shut its border to them, as have other Balkan countries along what used to be the refugees main route to central Europe.
Efforts continue to relocate the migrants to so-called “transit centers” across Greece. The Greek government wants to empty the Idomeni encampment by next month, but has ruled out using coercive measures.