Macedonia police deploy tear gas on refugees at Idomeni

Macedonian police have deployed a battery of nonlethal force on refugees at Idomeni. Refugees who’ve been stuck at the crossing for over a month tried to break the fence blocking their journey toward northern Europe.

Refugees had gathered in front of the Greek police barricade at the Idomeni border crossing to Macedonia by 9 a.m. on Sunday. Those at the front held up paper placards with peaceful slogans as they faced down a heavily fortified Greek police deployment. Three buses blocked the railroad tracks, and extra forces stood by, ready to intervene.

For the first couple of hours the protests were calm. After speaking with Greek police, five refugees even agreed to go to the border to negotiate with the Macedonian authorities.

“We are not the ones who keep the borders closed,” a Macedonian police officer said with the help of an English-speaking interpreter. “We are following Europe’s orders. Please remain calm and peaceful and do not try to break the fence.”

One of the representatives responded: “We understand, and we want to be peaceful. But behind me there are 10,000 people – refugees who are fleeing war – and they have been here for months now. We want a solution.”

Ten minutes later the clashes broke out.

‘Open the door’

Hundreds of refugees moved toward the fence. The first ones to arrive tried to cut the barbed wire at the spots left unprotected by the Macedonian riot police. And then the first tear gas canisters were thrown. Tear gas and chemicals kept on coming in an effort to keep people from approaching the fence. Some of it was fired directly at the refugees; sometimes canisters were lobbed deep into the surrounding Greek farmland as Greek police watched.

Clouds of chemicals spread throughout the refugee camp and the village of Idomeni. People with red eyes attempted to cover the gas clouds with blankets. Some refugees had smeared toothpaste on their faces, foreseeing the tear gas and hoping to mitigate its effects. Activists had brought washbasins to allow those who had been hit to rinse their eyes.

“Do you see this?” a refugee who was watching the clashes said. “This is like Palestine, Gaza.”

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