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Police in Macedonia fire tear gas on migrants

Sakis Mitrolidis / AFP | Migrants hold up an injured individual after clashes with Macedonian police

Macedonian police firing tear gas drove back crowds of migrants and refugees trying to enter from Greece on Friday, enforcing an emergency decree sealing the frontier to thousands of Syrians, Afghans and others trying to reach western Europe.

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The Balkan country declared a state of emergency on its northern and southern borders on Thursday after weeks of chaotic scenes at a border railway station inundated daily by up to 2,000 migrants and refugees crossing from Greece en route to Hungary and Europe’s borderless Schengen zone.

Riot police in armoured vehicles sealed the border around the official crossing point at the town of Gevgelija, leaving several thousand people, mainly Syrians, stranded in a cold, damp no-man’s land overnight.

A Reuters cameraman saw police fire tear gas to disperse a crowd seeking passage into Macedonia. Several people bore leg wounds. A second Reuters reporter saw military vehicles at the railway station after the government said on Thursday that it would call in the army to help.

The flare-up was brief, but the plight facing those trapped in no-man’s land threatens to worsen as more continue to arrive. Reuters reporters said aid agencies did not appear to have access to the migrants, though the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) were present either side of the border.

EU doing ‘too little’

The International Organisation for Migration said it was “deeply concerned” by the fate of those stuck in no-man’s land, calling for restraint and urgent humanitarian aid.

The UNHCR criticised the border closure. “These are refugees in search of protection and must not be stopped from doing so,” said chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
Fleming called on Europe to find a solution, saying overstretched Macedonia and Serbia “cannot be left alone with this number of refugees.”

The standoff on the Greek-Macedonian border is the latest flashpoint in what the European Union itself last week called the biggest migration crisis since World War II.
Europe's interior and foreign ministers will meet in mid-October to discuss how to respond to the huge influx of migrants and refugees arriving at its borders.

The meeting, to be followed by further talks in Berlin, will pave the way for broader discussions at an EU summit in Malta in November which will also be attended by African leaders, France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced after talks with his German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere in the German capital Thursday.

De Maiziere said it was "unacceptable that European institutions continue to work at their current slow pace" in finding a joint solution to the crisis, adding that "too little" was being done to implement decisions that have already been taken.

EU border agency Frontex said Tuesday that a record 107,000 migrants were at the bloc's borders last month, with 20,800 arriving in Greece last week alone.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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