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Macedonia allows hundreds of refugees to cross border

Monday, 24 August 2015

Macedonian police have allowed hundreds of refugees to pass through their border from Greece after police fired stun grenades for a second day in a failed bid to stop them from breaking through.

Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull, reporting from Idomeni on the Greek side of the border, said as night fell on Saturday, it was clear the police were unable to stop the refugees "so they stopped trying".

The crossings followed a second tense day in which Macedonian police fired percussion grenades and clashed with refugees who attempted to scramble over barbed wire fences to cross.

I'm not a terrorist. We are humans. Where's the humanity? Where's the world? Look, everyone here, they are families.

Our correspondent said that while hundreds earlier in the day managed to cross by sprinting through open fields, many others had been sent back to Greece, where they alleged harsh treatment from Macedonian police and showed Al Jazeera their injuries.

Earlier on Saturday, Hull said he heard the sound of small arms being fired above the heads of the refugees, including a mother and her two children.

"They've taken staggering risks to get here. They've travelled the sea in plastic dinghies, they've crossed borders on foot. They didn't expect to be confronted with violence by armed police," our correspondent said.

Ahmed Satuf, a refugee from Idlib in Syria, told Al Jazeera he didn't want anything from Macedonia, except for being allowed to cross its borders.

"I'm not a terrorist. We are humans. Where's the humanity? Where's the world? Everyone here, they are families," he said.

"We don't need anything. We don't need money. Let us cross. I want to go to Germany."

Several thousand rain-soaked refugees have been trapped in the border area between Greece and Macedonia since Thursday, when Macedonia's government declared a state of emergency on the frontier to deal with the issue.

Overnight on Friday, police had let small groups of families with children cross the border by walking to a railway station in the Macedonian town of Gevgelija, where most will take trains to the border with Serbia, before heading towards EU-member Hungary.

Those who could not cross, including many women and children, spent the rainy and chilly night in the open.

Hull said large numbers of Syrians had earlier moved back from the point of crossing to separate themselves from other nationalities.

"They want to separate themselves from the other nationalities; the Pakistanis, the Afghans, the Iraqis...what they say is that all these other nationalities claim to be Syrians as well, because it is the Syrians who have the most valid claim to asylum.

"They are refugees, they are fleeing civil war. Many of the others, they say, are economic migrants."

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, the head of Amnesty International in Greece, told Al Jazeera that the Macedonian police were treating refugees as though they were rioters.

"Authorities must be able to make a distinction. These are people entitled to international protection," he said.

Ivo Kotevsky, a spokesman for the interior ministry, told Al Jazeera on Friday that the officers had not used violence against the refugees but had been forced to take measures to protect themselves and the border.

Kotevsky said Macedonia was trying to do its best to protect the refugees, who had been "practically expelled from Greece".

The refugees hope that by crossing to Macedonia they will be able to take trains through Serbia to Hungary, an EU member, which has begun erecting a fence to try to keep them out.

Source: Al Jazeera

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