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Migrants Are Being Tear-Gassed in Macedonia and France

Police in Macedonia fired tear gas at hundreds of people who stormed the border from Greece and over 1,000 miles to the northwest clashes also broke out at a migrant camp in Calais, northern France.
Photo by Petros Giannakouris/AP

Police in Macedonia have fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of migrants and refugees who stormed the border from Greece on Monday, smashing through a gate with a makeshift battering ram as frustrations boiled over at restrictions imposed on people moving through the Balkans.

Over 1,000 miles to the northwest, officers also used tear gas in northern France as clashes broke out as work got underway to clear part of the shanty town outside Calais where migrants are trying to reach Britain.


In Macedonia, police stationed in Gevgelija fired several rounds of tear gas into crowds who tore down the metal gate and onto a railway line where migrants sat refusing to move, demanding to cross into the country, according to a witness who spoke to Reuters.

Medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières reported it had treated 15 people for injuries as a result of the incident, including nine children treated for "respiratory issues" following the use of tear gas.

#Macedonia: Police fired tear gas as migrants stormed a fence on the Greek-Macedonia border — RFE/RL (@RFERL) February 29, 2016

Police fired tear gas as migrants stormed a fence on the Greek-Macedonia border

This is a transit camp for — MSF Sea (@MSF_Sea)February 29, 2016

Intense scene by — Andrew Katz (@katz)February 29, 2016

Gevgelija sits across the border from the Greek community of Idomeni and serves as the main border crossing between the two countries. Around 8,000 people were gathered on the Idomeni side at the time of the incident. Most were Syrians and Iraqis.

Earlier on Monday, a crush had developed along the frontier after rumors spread that Macedonian authorities had opened the border after several hours of it remaining sealed shut.

Crowds who gathered at the razor wire fence proceeded to use a heavy metal pole to bring down a gate by digging beneath the barrier and using force to push it up and out. At least two people collapsed in the crush and ensuing use of tear gas, images showed.


Related: Desperation on the Greek Border as Europe Threatens to Shut Its Doors

At least 22,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece in the past week since border restrictions began along other countries in the Balkan corridor used to get to central and northern Europe. Greece's migration minister said that number could rise to 70,000 in the coming days.

Many have been camping in squalid conditions for a week or more, with little food or medical help, according to the BBC.

In response to the incidents, Macedonian police sent reinforcements to the border on Monday afternoon, with about a hundred special police in riot gear, accompanied by police forces of other countries flown in by helicopter to help in enforcing border controls.

Greece has raced to set up temporary accommodation for a build-up of thousands of migrants stranded in the country after Austria and countries along the Balkans migration route imposed restrictions on their borders, limiting the number of migrants able to cross.

Several Balkan countries have erected fences in recent months in an attempt to reduce the influx of migrants, after more than a million reached Germany last year.

Related: 'Everyone Will Make It One Day': Meeting the Calais Migrants Who Dream of England

In Calais, police fired tear gas around midday, about 150-200 migrants and activists threw stones, and three makeshift shelters were set ablaze, according to a Reuters photographer at the site.


Earlier, one person was arrested for trying to stop a group of about 20 workers under heavy police protection from clearing the site, where about 3,000 people are staying.

"The migrants are just going to run and hide in the woods and the police are going to have to go after them," said activist Francois Guennoc of the Auberge des Migrants migrant support group.

VIDEO: Clashes between police and refugees in 'Jungle' camp in — Conflict News (@Conflicts)February 29, 2016

French authorities began dismantling the migrant and refugee camp in Calais known as the "Jungle" on Monday.

The European Union (EU) continues to struggle with the unprecedented influx of people from poor and war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing the biggest test of her decade in power, on Sunday defended her country's open-door policy for migrants, rejecting any limit on the number of refugees allowed into her country despite divisions within her government over the issue.

"There are many conflicting interests in Europe," she told state broadcaster ARD. "But it is my damn duty to do everything I can so that Europe finds a collective way."

That was lacking on Monday, a week before EU leaders were due to meet with Turkey on how it could help quell the flow of migrants from its shores.

In an increasingly shrill debate, Austria's defense minister suggested Merkel take in all those who were stranded in Greece.

"The German chancellor … said that formally there is no upper limit in Germany. Then, I would invite her to take the people, who arrive in Greece now and whom she wants to take care of, directly to Germany," Hans Peter Doskozil told Austrian's Oe1 radio.

Related: Inside the UK Asylum System: From Eritrea to Northern England