Macedonian police used tear gas to push back hundreds of refugees on the Greek side of the border at a sprawling refugee camp Sunday, a Reuters witness said, an action that was immediately heavily criticized as "dangerous and deplorable" by the Greek government.
Around 260 refugees were reportedly injured in the incident, with the Macedonian Interior Ministry announcing that reinforcements are being sent to secure the area after 15 police officers also sustained injuries. Five police officers are apparently in a serious condition.
Greece said police on the Macedonian side of their joint frontier used teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to push back the refugees. Macedonian authorities would only confirm they used teargas.
The escalation in tensions that have been simmering for weeks came after more than 500 people gathered at the fence at the sprawling camp of Idomeni, where more than 10,000 migrants and refugees have been stranded since February after a cascade of border shutdowns throughout the Balkans.
More than a million people fleeing conflict poured into Europe mainly through Greece in the past year. The European Union is implementing an accord under which all new arrivals to Greece will be sent back to Turkey if they don't meet asylum criteria.
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A Macedonian official who asked to remain anonymous said that a large group of migrants left 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.”
Aid organizations said they were treating people for tear gas exposure. "We have injuries and are extremely busy," a senior official for medical charity MSF told Reuters. Another aid organization also confirmed injuries among the migrant population.