Idomeni / AFP
Hundreds of hopeful refugees flooded back to Greeceâ€™s overwhelmed Idomeni camp on the border with Macedonia on Sunday following rumours that the closed frontier would be forced open.
The renewed influx came as Greek authorities were trying to evacuate an estimated 11,500 people who were stranded at the squalid camp after Balkan states slammed shut their borders, cutting off the migrant route to the European Union.
By late morning, around 250 people of all ages had gathered by the railway tracks and the border fence, singing and shouting slogans, an AFP correspondent said, in a largely peaceful demonstration watched by around 50 Greek policemen in riot gear. â€œNo violence, we just want to cross,â€ read one banner, while another said: â€œFreedom of movement is everybodyâ€™s right.â€
The wave of new arrivals appeared to be triggered by a rumour that international journalists and Red Cross officials would help them force their way across the fence into Macedonia, a young Syrian refugee told the Athens News Agency.
â€œWe heard today that the border will open and we came here to cross,â€ he said. â€œThey told us the Red Cross and 500 journalists from all over the world will be with us,â€ he said, without specifying the source.
Another young Syrian refugee said his sister, who is living in Germany, read the same claim on the Internet and alerted him.
â€œPeople have been here for a long time. I think itâ€™s very dangerous to cross, especially for the children but what should we do?â€ 24-year-old Qasim Mosawy from Afghanistan said. Dozens of other migrants could be seen heading through the fields towards the Idomeni crossing, an AFP reporter said.
â€˜Creating false hopeâ€™
â€œWe are trying to step up our information campaign to the refugees. Some people, for reasons we donâ€™t understand, are creating false hope,â€ said Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman of the SOMP agency which is coordinating Athensâ€™ response to the refugee crisis. Using loudspeakers, Greek officials told those gathering that the crossing would remain closed, repeating the message in both Arabic and Farsi, the Athens News Agency said. Two weeks ago, hundreds of people were stopped by Macedonian troops after crossing a surging river on the border. Bypassing the regular crossing, they tried to wade through the swift-flowing water, clinging to a rope strung between the banks in order to cross the frontier.
Three Afghan migrants, including a pregnant woman, drowned. The rest were stopped by Macedonian troops and sent back to Greece, along with journalists travelling with them.
â€œMacedonia will not allow (the) reopening of the Balkan route,â€ said Ivica Bocevski, a representative of President Gjorge Ivanov in the wake of the incident.