Idomeni: Macedonian police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at refugees trying to break through Greek border

A witness described the scenes as 'horrific'

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The Independent Online

Macedonian police have fired tear gas at more than 500 people attempting to break through a border fence at the Idomeni camp in Greece.

A number of photos and videos on social media appear to show refugees running from gas canisters and stun grenades thrown by officers in riot gear. Others showed people being carried away unconscious. Médecins sans Frontières said it treated more than 300 patients, including 200 for exposure to tear gas and 30 for rubber bullet wounds.

Witnesses said there were a number of loud explosions, as helicopters flew overhead and rubber bullets were fired. They said the fence had been breached at two points.

Laura Samira Naude, an officer at refugee charity Lighthouse Relief, said she witnessed “horrific scenes”.

Ms Naude told The Independent: “The police were firing so much tear gas and rubber bullets too. Young babies had to be treated.

“Some of the refugees were told that the border would be opening up at 9am today. Hundreds of families had their bags packed, ready to leave. They said they don’t want to stay here because otherwise they’ll die.

“The asylum system is frankly quite ridiculous. People have to lodge their applications through Skype, but in the camp it’s just not plausible. So their asylum requests aren’t even being processed.”

Jonas Hagensen of Medecins Sans Frontieres told The Independent they were treating people for respiratory problems, open wounds and suspected fracture. The charity revealed they were treating pregnant women.

Mr Hagensen said staff were "badly affected" by the tear gas, and that one patient claimed to have been taken to a room by Macedonian police and beaten for an hour.

Wolly Ahmed, a volunteer at the Idomeni camp, said initially the refugees “waited peacefully on a nearby set of train tracks”.

Mr Ahmed said a group of five refugee leaders went to hold discussions with Macedonian police, but they returned unsuccessful.

He added: “They began surging towards the fence and managed to cut through in two different parts."

Fotis Filippou, director of campaigns at Amnesty International, called on the Macedonian police to "fully comply" with international policing standards.

Mr Filippou added: "The scenes we are seeing are the expected and unavoidable result of thousands being trapped in Idomeni and elsewhere in Greece - abandoned by Europe - in awful conditions and with little hope of getting protection.

"Greece and the EU must work on real solutions as a matter of urgency: these must include adequate reception conditions in Greece and access to relocation and other schemes that will allow refugees to find sanctuary in other EU member states."

The 28 European Union member states last month voted to shut down the so-called “Balkan route”, leaving 42,000 refugees stranded on Greek soil. The Greek interior minister Panagiotis Kouroublis said the conditions at Idomeni, where more than 11,000 refugees currently live, are comparable to Nazi concentration camps.

International aid charity Médecins sans Frontières estimated more than 30 per cent of the refugees in the Idomeni camp were children, many of whom were struggling with infections and illnesses.

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