Police were forced to resort to tear gas Monday when hundreds of migrants broke through the barbed wire fence separating Greece from Macedonia. The migrants, more than fed-up with restrictions limiting travel through the Balkans, refused to move and demanded access to Macedonia.
Greece is struggling to set up temporary shelters for the thousands of migrants trapped there after Austria and other countries tightened restrictions on their borders, significantly limiting the number of refugees able to cross.
Fleeing war and poverty in their home countries, many of these migrants are hoping to seek asylum in Germany – a country already drowning under the weight of over 1 million refugees taken in last year.
The 22,000 migrants trapped in Greece this week could grow to 70,000 in upcoming days, said Greece’s migration minister. These individuals are currently camped in central Athens, a nearby abandoned airport, and amongst the 2004 Olympic Games buildings.
Greece has faced considerable criticism from other countries for waving immigrants through. “These people do not want to stay here,” said Greece’s shipping minister Thodoris Dritsas. “Even if we had a system in place for them to stay here permanently, it wouldn’t work.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, under more stress than perhaps any other European leader, confirmed that she will continue to maintain Germany’s open-door policy for refugees and migrants. “It is my damn duty to do everything I can so that Europe finds a collective way,” she said.
That solution has yet to be found, however. Last week during a meeting between EU leaders and Turkish officials, Austria’s defense minister slammed the kind-hearted Merkel, suggesting she take in all those currently stranded in Greece: “The German chancellor…said that formally there is no upper limit in Germany. Then, I would invite her to take the people, who arrive in Greece now and whom she wants to take care of, directly to Germany.”
Meanwhile, fights continue to break out over the limited number of tents in the soggy fields surrounding the small community of Idomeni located near the Greece-Macedonia border. “Frustration has accumulated because for several days some of these people have been blocked at the Greek border,” said Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki.
Macedonia sought the help of nearly 100 police officers from nearby countries to help mollify those in Idomeni’s tent city. Poposki explains that “encouraging” cooperation has been established with Greece, but that it may not be enough to solve the problem.
“There are people who have been here for as long as 10 days,” said Gemma Gillie of Doctors Without Borders. “Things are really stretched to the limit.”
The breakthrough on Monday occurred after rumors circulated that Macedonia had opened its border. Crowds of refugees gathered at the barbed wire fence and used a metal pole to smash through a gate. At least two people were trampled in the rush.