Irish aid worker condemns use of teargas on migrants
Dozens of migrants and refugees were wounded yesterday when Macedonian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds on the Greek side of the border, aid workers said, an act condemned by Greece as "dangerous and deplorable".
More than 10,000 migrants and refugees have been stranded at the Greek border outpost of Idomeni since February after a cascade of border shutdowns across the Balkans closed off their route to central and western Europe.
An earlier attempt by a large group of migrants to cross the border fence had resulted in the confrontation, a Macedonian official said.
Greece said police on the Macedonian side of their joint frontier used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to push back the migrants. Macedonian authorities would only confirm they used teargas.
A deputy field coordinator with medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told Reuters that of around 300 people treated, more than 30 had wounds caused by rubber bullets.
There were many women and children who had respiratory problems from teargas exposure, he said.
Meanwhile an Irish woman helping refugees in a camp along the border condemned the use of tear gas, saying: "These people are refugees, not terrorists."
Anne O'Rorke, a retired businesswoman from Waterford, along with her sister Lisa Kelly, from Rush, Co Dublin, is volunteering with the refugees.
"Today was horrific. Horrific. There are 11,000 people in the main camp and 5,000 are children.
"They are doctors and nurses and florists and village people; they are you and me, they are 'us' in different circumstances," said Anne.
The sisters are helping by preparing and distributing food to the migrants.
Anne said yesterday that some of the migrants decided to cut through the wire fence running through fields which form the border between Greece, where the main refugee camp is, and Macedonia.
She said some were carrying children, others were pushing old people in wheelchairs and "there are five-year-old children who have only known war".
She said following the firing of tear gas: "Their eyes were burning and they were screaming and running. These children live in tents next to the fence. Tonight their tents are full of tear gas. Thank God it rained."
Police in Skopje said three officers were also hurt.
More than a million people fleeing conflict poured into Europe, mainly through Greece, in the past year.
The European Union (EU) is implementing an accord under which all new arrivals to Greece will be sent back to Turkey if they do not meet asylum criteria.
A Macedonian official said a large group of migrants left the Idomeni camp on Sunday morning and stormed towards the fence.
"They threw rocks at the Macedonian police. The police fired tear gas in response," the official said.
"The migrants were pushing against the fence but standing on the Greek side of the border. The fence is still there, they have not broken through."
Reuters witnesses said a small group of migrants attempted to talk to Macedonian border guards, asking for them to open the border.
After being given a negative response, they and other migrants started walking towards the fence.
Macedonian police fired teargas, and some migrants hurled back some gas cannisters and rocks, they said. A Macedonian police spokesman said the situation at the border was under control but still tense, he added.