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Ten Migrants Injured During Border Clashes With Macedonian Police

Authorities in Macedonia have sent reinforcements to the country’s southern border, where nearly 3,000 migrants have gathered with the hope of eventually reaching northern European countries.
Children cry as migrants waiting on the Greek side of the border break through a cordon of Macedonian special police forces to cross into Macedonia, 21 August 2015. (Georgi Licovski/EPA)

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Ten people were injured Friday as Macedonian police fired stun grenades into a crowd of migrants who had gathered at the border between Greece and Macedonia, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said. The NGO said that four of the migrants were hospitalized because of their injuries.

Our teams right now in Idomeni (Greek border) treating people who've been injured by shrapnel from stun grenades fired by Macedonian army

— MSF International (@MSF)21 Août 2015

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According to the Wall Street Journal, the crowd of around 3,000 migrants had attempted several times to force their way across the border into Macedonia, which was closed Thursday to allow the authorities to deal with the influx of refugees.

On Thursday, Macedonian interior ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said that a state of emergency had been declared along the Macedonian border, and that the army had been dispatched to secure the country's northern and southern borders.

A police source confirmed the army's presence at the border. Speaking to VICE News Friday, Kotevski said that there had been "no violence, at least, not on the Macedonian side."

A video reportedly shot this morning near the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija and broadcast by Serbian television channel RTS appears to show police firing tear gas and stun grenades at a crowd of migrants.

Migrants — including woman and children — are seen running away from the police through clouds of tear gas. Later in the video, men dressed in military uniforms are filmed putting on body armor.

Macedonian police fire tear gas to disperse thousands of migrants trying to enter from Greece— RTÉ News (@rtenews)21 Août 2015

As a result of a record influx of migrants in neighboring Greece, Macedonia has become a major transit point for refugees, many of whom are fleeing conflict in Syria or Afghanistan. According to UNHCR, 50,242 migrants arrived in Greece by sea in July alone, compared to 43,500 in the whole of 2014.

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Over the last few months, the border town of Gevgelija has become a crossroads for thousands of migrants, many of whom head north to Serbia on bicycles, buses or trains, and then on to Hungary, in the hope of reaching the EU's borderless 26-country Schengen zone.

Related: 'Refugees Will Break the Wall': On the Frontlines of Hungary's Immigration Fence

A favored crossing point for migrants is the Greek town of Idomeni, which is a five-minute train ride to Gevgelija, in Macedonia. Many of the migrants cross along the railway tracks linking Thessaloniki, in Greece, to Macedonia's capital Skopje.

Prior to the state of emergency, migrants were granted a 72-hour window to seek asylum or leave Macedonia. For several months, migrants were barred from public transport, before eventually being allowed onto special government-chartered trains.

Faced with chaotic scenes at the train station in Gevgelija, where desperate migrants tried to force their way onto overcrowded trains, the authorities decided to close what had been Macedonia's porous border.

On an official visit to Macedonia's southern border in July, President Gjorge Ivanov announced that he would respond to the growing migrant crisis by dispatching the army to the area "to assist police in facing these challenges and the large numbers of emigrants."

As of Friday, only legal migrants can enter Macedonia. According to the Macedonian Information Agency (MIA) — the country's public information service — authorities have erected a 400-meter barbed wire fence along the southern border.

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In its July 2015 report on Europe's borderlands, Amnesty International highlighted the violations and abuses against migrants in the Balkans.

Speaking to VICE News back in July, Amnesty International Balkans researcher Sian Jones said that migrants in Macedonia often experience serious rights violations, including "routine violence." Many migrants often end up detained "for months on end" in Macedonia, she said.

Follow Pierre-Louis Caron onTwitter : @pierrelouis_c

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