Middle East

Wire, stun grenades greet refugees in Macedonia

A woman migrant, right, feeds her baby while waiting for her family in the crowd of migrants to enter Macedonia passing the police blockade set at the railway tracks on the border line with Greece, near the southern Macedonia's town of Gevgelija, on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015.(AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

EDOMENI, Greece: For the 3,000 refugees and migrants stuck on Greece’s border with Macedonia, being beaten back violently by police Friday was just the latest indignity in a grueling journey to new lives in Europe.

The crowds, most of them Syrians, were stranded near the Greek village of Edomeni after Macedonia declared a state of emergency Thursday and sealed the border, hoping to stem the flow of people trying to cross the small Balkan country on their way to northern Europe.

As hundreds tried to cross newly laid rolls of barbed wire along the frontier Friday, Macedonian officers beat them back with truncheons and lobbed stun grenades, setting off blinding flashes and huge bangs.

Panicked refugees ran for cover as smoke spewed from the grenades. Women screamed, cradling their children in their arms.

In the chaos, some of the refugees fell to the ground; one young man had a face covered in blood. Greek police said eight people were injured.

Jacob, a Syrian Christian who fled persecution at home, was one of many whose frustrations spilled over as he was forced to wait at the border. “We are hunted in Syria because we are Christian. They wanted to kill us. Why won’t they let us through here?” he asked.

A makeshift camp has sprung up at Edomeni, with whole families squeezing into small tents at night, lighting fires to keep warm. Others have been sleeping on the nearby railway track or inside train carriages.

Many have sought accommodation in the village, but all the hotels are full.

“I will pay any price to get to a hotel,” said a 42-year-old man, holding his 6-year-old son by the hand.

Given the size of the crowd, nearby facilities are desperately inadequate – there are only five portable toilets, and a few volunteers providing assistance.

“We are very angry because the police had told us they would let us through today. We are not animals,” Jad, a 25-year-old Syrian, told AFP. Like so many others, he arrived in Greece via the island of Lesbos, and has been stuck at Edomeni for three days.

Rights group Amnesty International said many of those on the border needed medical attention, with some showing signs of war wounds.

Supplies in the little village are running low, though a small grocery store is cashing in by staying open 24 hours a day, offering tins of food.

“What can they do? They seek a better life. Every day I see women with small children crying,” said a local villager.

The German consul to Greece’s second city Thessaloniki, Ingo von Voss, arrived a few hours after the violence broke out, saying he wanted to hear about the situation and report back to his government. “This is neither a Greek nor a European problem. It is a global problem,” he said.

Refugees here say they only want to pass through Macedonia – most are hoping to eventually reach Germany or Sweden.

“People used to travel toward water to survive. Now they follow money. This is why I want to go to Germany to work and live like a human being,” says Abdul, from Pakistan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 22, 2015, on page 8.




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