IDOMENI, Greece (Reuters) - Scuffles broke out between migrants and Greek police on Monday after dozens tried to push a train carriage along rail tracks leading to Macedonia.
The minor trouble came a day after dozens of migrants and refugees were injured in clashes with Macedonian police which the Greek prime minister deplored as “a disgrace for European civilization”.
More than 10,000 migrants and refugees have been stranded at the Greek border outpost of Idomeni since February after a cascade of border shutdowns across the Balkans closed off their route to central and western Europe.
During Monday’s scuffles, men stood on top the train carriage shouting and waving the Greek and German flags in protest. Others walked up to the border and waved olive branches at Macedonian soldiers who stood guard on the other side of the razor wire fence.
The tension was short lived and bore no resemblance to Sunday when dozens of migrants and refugees were wounded after Macedonian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds on the Greek side of the border.
Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that of around 300 people it treated on Sunday more than 30, including children, had injuries caused by rubber bullets.
Macedonian authorities would only confirm they had used tear gas and accused Greek police of not intervening to stop the protesters.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denounced the use of “chemicals, of tear gas, of rubber bullets against people who clearly were not armed, were not a serious threat.
“This constitutes a big disgrace for European civilization and for countries who want to become a part of European civilization,” he said. Macedonia has been a candidate for accession to the European Union since 2005.
In one section of the camp, several dozen rubber bullets and shells from tear gas canisters were spread across a blanket.
One Syrian refugee told Reuters that he and his wife and four children had been treated for the effects of tear gas.
“We saved our children from death. If they had died in Syria under the air strikes (it would have been) better than living in this humiliation,” said the man, who gave his name as Taha.
“We ran away from humiliation. We thought Europe would open its arms for us and treat us with dignity, instead it’s been humiliation,” he said.
Greece has been trying for weeks to convince those stuck at the border to move to camps set up by the government across the country. Most have been reluctant to move, fearing they will forever miss any chance to move on to central and western Europe.
Greece’s Public Protection Minister Nikos Toskas, a retired major-general who once served at NATO on defense planning, said the government did not intend to let the situation at Idomeni “fester,” but would not forcibly remove migrants either.
“I’ve learnt to look a bit into the future,” he told Greek TV. “Yesterday’s beaten - if we are not careful - could be tomorrow’s jihadists and nobody wants that,” he said, referring to fears by Europol that refugees and migrants could be vulnerable to radicalisation and targeted by Islamic State recruiters.
Additional reporting by Kole Kasule in Skopje; Writing by Karolina Tagaris in Athens Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.