Migrants’ protest at Idomeni camp fizzles out
IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — A protest by hundreds of migrants, egged on by activists to demand that the border between Greece and Macedonia be opened, passed without any serious incidents on Sunday.
However, it exposed rifts between different ethnic groups among the over 11,000 refugees and migrants stranded at this makeshift encampment, some for weeks, after Balkan countries on what used to be the busiest migrant route to central and northern Europe shut down their borders.
The European Union has effectively approved this policy by signing a deal with Turkey that discourages war refugees from making the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece and ending the hopes of migrants from other countries of being admitted into Europe.
Several hundred Iraqis and Syrians in the Idomeni border camp stood between protesters and police on Sunday, thwarting the protesters’ efforts to march toward the fence separating Greece from Macedonia. Scuffles broke out between the two groups.
The protesters twice broke through the barrier the Iraqis and Syrians have formed, only to be pushed back by Greek riot police who used only their shields.
People speaking for the Iraqis and Syrians, including Kurds from both countries, told police that they are not taking part in the protest, which they said was mounted by people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also said that activists were circulating at the camp Saturday.
“There were people, whom we do not know, telling us that they would help us open the border at noon today, but obviously this was not true,” Syrian refugee Hassan Fatuhlla told The Associated Press.
Fatuhlla, one of those who have formed a chain around the police, has been at the camp for 37 days. His child was born in a tent 10 days ago, he said.
Leftist activists from Greece and other European countries have staged protests outside the transit centers and appear determined to sabotage the deal.
The rumors they spread that the border would open Sunday led some people who had gone to the centers to return to Idomeni. These people then began protesting that the border has not opened. With the protest having ended, many of those, often whole families loaded with baggage, took taxes or buses back to the transit centers, in a decidedly subdued mood.
“Some people lied to us about the border opening,” said Delbar Kalbey, 35, a Syrian Kurd from the city of Kobane, who made the trip from a transit center to Idomeni with his wife, their 7-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.
Greek police said they stopped two buses and 10 cars carrying Italian activists slightly over 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the border protest.
Demetris Nellas contributed to this report from Athens, Greece.
Follow Kantouris on twitter: https://twitter.com/CostasKantouris