Macedonia reopens its border to Iraqi, Syrian migrants

February 27, 2016

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — Macedonia reopened its border to Iraqi and Syrian asylum-seekers on Saturday, hours after migrants protested peacefully on the Greek side of the border, demanding admission into Macedonia.

Haider Sahd, a U.N. field officer in Macedonian town of Gevgelija, confirmed the border opening to the Associated Press. According to Greek police, Macedonia will admit 300 migrants Saturday. Macedonian authorities said the number let in could reach 350. A similar number of migrants, who had entered Macedonia earlier in the week, boarded a train in Gevgelija on Saturday, heading to Macedonia’s border with Serbia.

Macedonia had effectively shut down the border to all migrants since late Thursday night, enraging the Greek government. Macedonia has repeatedly said it has only slowed down or shut down migrant flows in response to bottlenecks further up along the Balkans migrant route.

In two separate protests Saturday, about 450 refugees gathered close to the fence marking the Greece-Macedonian border, carrying placards reading “Open the border” and shouting the same slogan. Before Macedonia decided to open its border, about 6,000 migrants had crowded a nearby tent camp, braving rainy weather overnight, Greek police said. Another 500 migrants are camped at a gas station 17 kilometers (10 miles) away.

Although the protests were peaceful, tempers were fraying among the migrants. “No one can stop the refugees, because people are dying in Syria and Iraq,” said Mohamed Kamel, 39, an Iraqi Kurd from Kirkuk, who was traveling with his wife and 7-year-old daughter.

“People (at the camp) are hungry and angry,” Kamel added. “If this situation continues, we will break down the fence.” In Athens, about 300 protesters marched to the Austrian embassy, demanding unfettered passage for refugees. Austria has taken the lead in slowing down the refugee flows from Balkan countries, a decision that has strained its relations with Greece.

Testorides reported from Skopje, Macedonia. Demetris Nellas and Raphael Kominis contributed from Athens, Greece.

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