Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Fake news sparks three days of border clashes between migrants and Greek police

Greek migration ministry said the migrants had been lured by "fake news" of the border being open.

Migrants shout slogans during clashes with Greek riot police outside of a refugee camp in Diavata, a west suburb of Thessaloniki. AFP 
Migrants shout slogans during clashes with Greek riot police outside of a refugee camp in Diavata, a west suburb of Thessaloniki. AFP 

Rumours spread on social media prompted a group of migrants to make the trek between Greece and North Macedonia, where they clashed with police in a field outside a migrant camp near the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki for the third day on Saturday.

The Greek migration ministry said the migrants had been lured by "fake news" of the border being open.

"People exhorted by fake news were misled because of their hope," Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said.

A Facebook post circulated the rumour of plans for an organised crossing of the North Macedonia border. About 600 people spent the night camping in a field outside the Diavata camp, where the clashes took place.

Bilal Jaf, a 25-year-old Kurdish migrant from Iraq, told British public broadcaster BBC that the situation in the camp was tense, adding: "We're afraid that the police will try to evacuate our makeshift camp,” he said.

"I have been living in Greece for 11 months, waiting for my asylum request to be examined. I don't know for how long I should wait for that."

Riot police fired tear gas at dozens of people, some with children in their arms, who responded by throwing stones and bottles as they tried to break a police cordon. Several refugees, including children, fainted amid the gas clouds on Saturday.

The number of migrants reaching central and northern Europe via the Balkan route has significantly fallen following the installation of a border fence along the Greek-North Macedonian border in late 2015. The border has been tightly sealed since then.

Nevertheless, the purported humanitarian organisation “Caravan of Hope” posted in Arabic a message telling migrants that Greece would open the border with North Macedonia at midday on April 5.

Mr Vitsas had previously said that the border would remain closed and that they should return to their accommodation centres in Greece. But migrants ignored that call after receiving news of the opposite on social media.

Some migrants outside the migrant camp hurled sticks and stones at police, who responded with tear gas.

The ministry said it hoped most people would return voluntarily by Sunday.

Greece currently houses more than 70,000 migrants across the country. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece after Balkan countries closed their borders in 2016, shutting off the main route to Central and Western Europe.

Updated: April 7, 2019 06:55 PM

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