Macedonian police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of refugees and migrants who pushed their way towards the border from Greece on Monday, tearing down a gate as frustrations boiled over at restrictions imposed on people moving through the Balkans.
Witnesses said Macedonian police fired several rounds of tear gas into crowds who tore down the metal gate and onto a railway line where refugees sat refusing to move, demanding to cross into the country.
Fence was broken, followed by gas bombs. People are gassed, children are crying, chaos. pic.twitter.com/MCRF4JkNAX
— Monika Kalinowska (@mkalinowskaa) February 29, 2016
There were an estimated 8,000 people gathered at Idomeni, the small frontier community on Greece's border with Macedonia. Most were Syrians and Iraqis.
Earlier Monday, a crush had developed along the frontier after rumors spread that Macedonian authorities had opened the border after several hours it remained sealed.
At least 22,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece in the past week since border restrictions began along other countries in the Balkan corridor used by individuals to get to central and northern Europe.
With Austria and Balkan states capping the numbers of refugees entering their territory, there has been a swift buildup along the Greek-Macedonian border with Athens warning that the number of people "trapped" on its soil could reach as many as 70,000 by next month.
As the bottleneck showed little sign of easing, German Chancellor Angela Merkel lashed out at a raft of restrictions imposed by Austria and the Balkan states, saying they risked plunging debt-ridden Greece into refugee chaos.
"We can’t just abandon this country," she said in an interview late on Sunday, pointing the finger at Austria, whose introduction of restrictions on February 19 triggered a domino effect.
"When one insists on his border, the other suffers. That’s not my Europe."
The build-up at Idomeni camp, which can accommodate up to 1,500 people but is currently sheltering more than 6,000, began in earnest last week after Macedonia began refusing entry to Afghans and imposed stricter controls on Syrians and Iraqis.
EU members Slovenia and Croatia quickly followed suit along with Serbia, with all four states imposing a daily limit of 580 people.
The spate of border closures was sparked by Austria's announcement it would accept no more than 80 asylum claims per day and cap the numbers of those seeking to cross its territory, in a move Merkel said was responsible for the current buildup.
But Austria quickly hit back at criticism of its tougher refugee policy, describing it as "absurd".
"We don't have to take criticism from anyone on any side," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the Austria Press Agency.
Austria says that its measures and those of Balkan countries, which are only allowing 580 refugees to enter per day, are necessary because efforts towards a common EU policy have failed so far.
Austria, last week hosted a meeting over the refugee situation for Balkan countries at which it persuaded them to also impose tougher controls.
Neither Greece nor Germany were invited to the talks, underscoring the deep rifts within the EU as it faces the biggest influx of refugees since 1945.
Greek media reported that ministers will attend an extraordinary meeting on Monday in Athens to piece together an "emergency" plan to tackle the issue.