Macedonia defends using tear gas on refugees

Macedonian foreign minister defends right to use tear gas on refugees forcing country’s border, as authorities deploy more soldiers to border with Greece

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Stranded refugees flee tear gas fire by the Macedonian police, after trying to bring down part of the border fence during a protest at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, February 29, 2016.

Macedonian foreign minister has defended his country's use of tear gas against hundreds of refugees who tried to force their way into the Balkan country, as authorities on Tuesday began to deploy additional soldiers, police officers, helicopters and military transporters at the country’s border with Greece.

Macedonian police on Monday fired volleys of tear gas at refugees, including women and children, who tried to pass a Greek police cordon and break through a barbed wire fence into Macedonia.

"What we have seen is some 400 young males trying forcibly to enter Macedonian territory from Greece," Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki told a British news outlet late Monday.

"If you are part of the security forces and you are faced with a situation where you have a violent attempt from several hundred young males to enter territory, without willing(ness) to register or to go to reception centres, I don't think that this is in line with what we have agreed at the European level."

More than 7,000 mostly Syrian and Iraqi refugees are stuck in Greece at the Idomeni border crossing in deteriorating conditions, after Macedonia, along with other Balkan states including Serbia and EU members Slovenia and Croatia, imposed a daily limit on the number of refugees allowed to enter.

Stranded refugees and migrants try to break a Greek police cordon in order to approach the border fence at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, February 29, 2016.

Poposki also said the easiest thing for the country to do was "to simply pull out and let all the migrants cross", but that EU members were insistent on a comprehensive system registering for eligible asylum seekers.

"Right now we have to have a system and the biggest problem is that this system doesn't seem to work. Therefore each one of us has to do his part of the responsibility on his own territory," he said.

On foot or in taxis, hundreds of exhausted refugee families trying to reach central Europe took shelter at a tent city on Tuesday on Greece's border with Macedonia, which has not allowed anybody in for 24 hours following the clashes.

Some refugees have been waiting at Idomeni border for more than a week.

"I've been at Idomeni for 10 days, and it's the fourth day I've been waiting to cross over," said 27-year-old Hassan Rasheed from Iraq, who is part of a group of 150 people who have been told it’s there turn to enter Macedonia.

"Conditions are very bad. There are many ill children who are coughing, and we spent the night in this tent under heavy rain."

Even when the border is open Macedonia only allows in about a few hundred people a day. On Monday it took in only 30.

A girl cries as she flees clashes during a protest at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, February 29, 2016.

Such “pressure” on the Balkans could “spark conflict” according to Poposki.

"We have to be careful that it doesn't lead to conflict between neighbours. Slovenia sends back illegal migrants to Croatia, Croatia to Serbia, and Serbia to Macedonia et cetera” he said  in a separate interview with German business daily Handelsblatt.

"I fear that such a scenario could become reality with a high number of refugees. If in addition, pressure grows from the south of the Balkan route, then there could be a serious conflict situation in the Balkans. We must aim to avoid such a situation" he added.

TRTWorld and agencies