Tuesday 23 July 2019

Protesting migrants block Athens train station

The demonstration came as migrants also clashed with police in northern Greece for a second day.

A migrant on the track (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)
A migrant on the track (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

By Costas Kantouris and Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press

Migrants blocked the main railway station in Athens in protests authorities said were triggered by false reports on social media that restrictions on travel to northern Europe had been lifted.

The protest came as migrants also clashed with police in northern Greece for a second day.

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Migrants block the track in Athens (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

In Athens, police said about 300 protesters gathered at Larissis Station, many sitting on the tracks in front of trains.

Authorities did not immediately intervene to disperse the demonstrators, while officials from the United Nations refugee agency were trying to persuade them to leave voluntarily.

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The protesters at Larissis Station (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

The clashes in northern Greece occurred outside an overcrowded migrant camp where police used tear gas and stun grenades to push back hundreds of protesters carrying their belongings and trying to walk to the border with North Macedonia, about 40 miles to the north.

Several hundred migrants, many having spent the night outside the camp in tents or sleeping rough, were involved in the clashes in a cornfield where police set up several blockades with buses and lines of riot police.

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Clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata (Giannis Papanikos/AP)

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

“Everyone is tense and no one really slept,” he told the Associated Press. “We’re hoping to go to another country because there is nothing for us here … and we need a safe place.”

Migration minister Dimitris Vitsas issued a plea to migrants to return to camps that are officially known as hospitality centres.

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Migrants flee the violence (Giannis Papanikos/AP)

“There was a false report being distributed that the border would be opened. We have informed the hospitality centres that is not the case,” he told state-run ERT television.

“I am issuing a plea right now to these people … that they should return to the centres. 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.”

Greece’s border with North Macedonia has been fenced off and heavily policed for the past three years after the European Union cracked down on migration because more than a million asylum-seekers travelled to EU countries, most fleeing war-torn areas in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

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