Spat between Athens and Skopje over clashes at Idomeni

Greece’s envoy in Skopje handed two protest notes on April 11 to the government of the Republic of Macedonia after the previous day Macedonian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of migrants as they tried to break through a border fence on the Greek side of the countries’ common border.

Aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it had treated about 300 injured people, the BBC said.

An April 11 statement by the Greek foreign ministry said that the head of Greece’s liaison office in Skopje, ambassador Theoharis Lalakos, “has made two severe demarches since this morning regarding the unacceptable incidents that took place today in Idomeni”.

The Greek foreign ministry said that Lalakos “made it clear in the most categorical manner that the use of violence in no way whatsoever contributes to the resolution of the refugee problem and is in direct conflict with the relevant provisions of international and humanitarian law”.

Lalakos called on the authorities in Skopje “to rise to the occasion and exhibit the proper responsibility, self-restraint and seriousness”.

The interior ministry in Skopje said that NGOs were encouraging illegal crossing of refugees on the border, the Independent Balkan News Agency reported.

“Different reports show that NGO activists have encouraged refugees to cross the border illegally. They have spread leaflets with false information, stressing that once they cross the Greek-Macedonian border, they will be able to continue their journey to EU member countries without any stops,” the Interior Ministry in Skopje said.

A lengthy statement by the Republic of Macedonia’s foreign ministry said that the illegal border crossing attempt on April 10 had involved an estimated number of more than 3000 migrants, organised in smaller and larger groups attempting to violently enter the Republic of Macedonia from Greece in and around the irregular border crossing point “Boundary Stone 59”.

“Something that started as a verbal outburst erupted in a violent clash with the Macedonian security forces, when several groups of migrants, unhindered and in an organized manner, stormed and pelted Macedonian security forces with stones,” according to the Republic of Macedonia’s foreign ministry.

The statement said that “according to the available information”, upon request of the Greek side a meeting took place at 9.30am at the “Boundary Stone 59” involving a few representatives of the migrants and Macedonian and Greek border police, wherein migrants requested information about the border crossing regime at the Macedonian border and were told the migration route towards the European Union remains closed.

At about 10.50am, larger groups of 1000 to 2000 migrants started moving towards “Boundary Stone 59”, “engaging in violent protests and repeatedly throwing stones at the Macedonian security forces in attempt to illegally cross the border”.

A few other groups, comprised of 500 to 1000 migrants, attempted to illegally cross the green borderline at several different sections in the vicinity of “Boundary Stone 59”. The violent protests and illegal border crossing attempts lasted until 6pm, the foreign ministry statement said.

The Macedonian security forces together with the police officers of several EU Members States deployed at the southern border under a joint EU – Macedonian border support and cooperation program for tackling the migration crisis, responded swiftly and accordingly and prevented illegal entry, the Macedonian foreign ministry said.

“Tear gas was used to disperse the violent mob. No other riot control means were used, nor physical force against the group,” according to the statement, which said that 23 Macedonian security officers were injured during the incident.

“No perpetrators were injured on Macedonian territory. Several damages of the border protective fence were recounted.”

“Different reports speak about migrants being incited, misled and organized by NGOs activists to cross the Greek-Macedonian border by using violence,” the foreign ministry in Skopje said.

“Distribution of leaflets was registered containing false information that once migrants manage to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, by using violence, they will be able to continue the journey to the EU Member States with no further impediments.”

The statement said that Macedonian authorities had requested engagement of the Greek police authorities while the violent attacks coming from Greek territory persisted on the ground.

“There have been continuous requests for cooperation, information sharing and preventive action to dissuade violent rioting of migrants and illegal border crossing from Greek into Macedonian territory. The establishment of law and order in the borderline zone, in and around the migrant reception centres is essential to prevent such incidents in the future,” Macedonia’s foreign ministry said.



The Sofia Globe staff

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