Monday 26 September 2016

Tempers flare as Macedonia blocks migrants

Published 20/11/2015 | 12:31

Refugees hold their identification documents as Macedonian policemen use their shields to push them back near the northern Greek village of Idomeni (AP)
Refugees hold their identification documents as Macedonian policemen use their shields to push them back near the northern Greek village of Idomeni (AP)

Tempers have flared at Greece's main border crossing with Macedonia, where riot police pushed back thousands of people after the Macedonians blocked access to those deemed to be economic migrants and not refugees.

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Holding their identity papers aloft, several hundred Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, who are being allowed into Macedonia, crossed the border on Friday morning until police halted the flow again to ease congestion on the Macedonian side.

Once across, refugees head for the nearby Gevgelija train station, to continue by rail north through Serbia toward wealthier northern European Union countries.

About 3,000 people remain on the Greek side of the border near the village of Idomeni, including about 1,000 Iranians and north Africans whom Macedonia is not letting in.

Overnight, police led 4,000 people into Macedonia by routes circumventing Idomeni, after migrants who are not being allowed in blocked the official crossing to complain about being excluded.

Meanwhile, Greek authorities have started supplementary identity checks on immigrants reaching Athens by ferry from the country's eastern islands, after breaking up a ring that sold fake identity documents to migrants arriving on Lesbos.

About 1,500 refugees and other migrants who reached Athens's port of Piraeus early on Friday were scrutinised as they disembarked from the Ariadni ferry. Dozens were taken aside and driven away in police buses for further checks.

The crackdown followed the arrests on Lesbos late on Thursday of about 10 people, including Afghan, Pakistani and Iraqi nationals, who allegedly sold forged police identity documents to newly arrived migrants.

Police said the gang was charging 300-400 euros (£210-£280) for each document, and is believed to have been selling up to 500 a day.

That would allow migrants to circumvent the official registration process, and buy ferry tickets for Piraeus without being screened by authorities on Lesbos - where most migrants crossing to Greece from Turkey arrive.

Press Association

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