War Refugees Trapped, Under Fire Trying to Enter Macedonia

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War Refugees Trapped, Under Fire Trying to Enter Macedonia

Amnesty International: 'Macedonian authorities are responding as if they were dealing with rioters rather than refugees'

Children cry as refugees waiting on the Greek side of the border break through a cordon of Macedonian special police forces to cross into Macedonia, near the southern city of Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Macedonian police clashed with thousands of refugees attempting to reach safety after being stranded in no-man's land overnight, marking an escalation of the European refugee crisis for the Balkan country.(photo/Georgi Licovski—EPA)

Several thousand rain-soaked war refugees and asylum-seekers ran across Macedonia's border from Greece Saturday as riot police chased them lobbing stun grenades, tear gas and beating them with batons. The violence came as Macedonia is cracking down on the flow of thousands of Syrian war refugees attempting to reach safety in western Europe by traveling through the Balkan region.

In the chaos, many families were separated, some left in Macedonia and others pushed onto the Greek side of the border. Children in tears searched for their parents shouting “mama, baba” while parents scoured the area for their missing children.Security forces boxed in hundreds of the refugees in no-man's land - including many children who were separated from their parents in the chaos. But several thousand others made it through muddy fields to Macedonian territory after days spent in the open without access to any shelter, food or water.

In the chaos, many families were separated, some left in Macedonia and others pushed onto the Greek side of the border. Children in tears searched for their parents shouting “mama, baba” while parents scoured the area for their missing children.

"In this Europe, animals are sleeping in beds and we sleep in the rain," said 23-year-old Syrian woman Fatima Hamido after running across the border. "I was freezing for four days in the rain, with nothing to eat."

Amnesty International led condemnations of the Macedonian authorities saying: “Every country has the power to patrol its own borders, but this kind of para-military response is an unacceptable push-back in violation of international law. Macedonian authorities are responding as if they were dealing with rioters rather than refugees who have fled conflict and persecution. If the reports of beatings and firearm use by the security forces are true, this would mark a very dangerous escalation of an already tense situation.  All countries have a duty to protect those fleeing conflict and persecution, and Macedonia is no exception. When the system cannot cope, you improve the system – you don’t just stop people from coming in.”

A witness on the Greek side of the border told Amnesty International that Macedonia’s Rapid Reaction Unit, an anti-terrorist police unit, had been beating refugees and asylum-seekers who were trying to enter Macedonia, and firing over their heads. A local NGO confirmed the use of rubber bullets.

The war in Syria has uprooted millions of people, including over 4 million who have fled their homeland. The US, a country that used to be a leader in refugee resettlement, has taken in fewer than 1,000 of them.Media reports and video have surfaced of Macedonian police using riot control agents and truncheons to beat people who did not seem to be posing any threat. The Ministry of Interior has issued a statement saying that stun grenades had been used.

A Syrian man spoke to Amnesty International from near Eidomeni on the Greek side of the border. He said that in the past two days, the Macedonian military have been preventing at least 1,000 people in that area, including families and lots of small children, from crossing the border. Groups of around 10 Macedonian troops in military uniform were positioned about every 50 meters along the border.

"We urge the (Macedonian) government to start opening the border again and prioritizing the most vulnerable, such as women, children and sick people," Alexandra Krause, a senior protection officer with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said Saturday.

"There are around 3,000 people here and the numbers are rising," Krause told Reuters. "People are exhausted. It has rained all night and they had no shelter."

The war in Syria has uprooted millions of people, including over 4 million who have fled their homeland. The US, a country that used to be a leader in refugee resettlement, has taken in fewer than 1,000 of them.

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