Border fence at Idomeni camp, Greece
A Macedonian policeman uses his baton to prevent migrants and refugees to open the border fence at Idomeni camp, GreeceReuters

Greece has attacked Macedonian police for firing tear gas and rubber bullets on hundreds of migrants who gathered at a border fence in the Idomeni migrant camp in Greece on Sunday 10 April. "The indiscriminate use of chemicals, rubber bullets and stun grenades against vulnerable populations... is a dangerous and deplorable act," Greek government spokesman George Kyritsis said.

However, the Macedonians also accused the Greeks of similar tactics. "Greek police are using tear gas near the border with Macedonia. It is calm so far on the Macedonian side of the border," a Macedonian police official told AFP.

A large group of migrants left Idomeni camp on the morning of 10 April, Sunday and pushed towards the fence, according to a Macedonian official.

"They threw rocks at the Macedonian police. The police fired tear gas in response," the official told the Reuters news agency. "The migrants were pushing against the fence but standing on the Greek side of the border. The fence is still there, they have not broken through."

Volunteers working for the Swedish charity Lighthouse Relief reported that rubber bullets had been fired at the refugees. The organisation posted photos of children being treated for the effects of tear gas and others holding rubber bullets. "Dozens of people were hurt, mainly suffering respiratory problems, and three had to be taken to hospital," said Medecins Sans Frontieres official Achileas Tzemos.

A Greek police source told Reuters that there was tension in the area where more than 11,000 refugees are living in makeshift accommodation. Migrants at the camp have been asking for the border with Macedonia to be opened, but no one has been granted access for several weeks.

Local media reported that the unrest started after a brochure was released in Arabic that called on the refugees in Idomeni to gather at the border and attempt to cross it. Greek authorities have been requesting the migrants to move to reception camps, but this has met with little success.

Idomeni protests

Thousands of migrants are effectively trapped in Greece as a result of Macedonia closing its border with Greece.

"Trapping asylum seekers in Greece is an unconscionable and short-sighted non-solution that is causing suffering and violence," said Eva Cossé, Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch. "It demonstrates once again the European Union's utter failure to respond collectively and compassionately to refugee flows."

Violence flared at the border previously on 29 February when Macedonian police fired tear gas and stun grenades after refugees and migrants stormed a gate on the border.

The humanitarian non-governmental organisation Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) told Human Rights Watch that it treated 22 people following the clashes, including 18 with respiratory problems from the tear gas and four were wounded, hit by rubber bullets and sticks. They said that 10 children, including some under age 5, were among the injured.

On 22 March, a refugee at the Idomeni camp set himself on fire, during protests demanding that Macedonia open its borders.