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Migrants refuse to leave after death on Greek-Macedonia border


Migrants begin walking towards the Austrian border in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary, on. PHOTO: stuff

Migrants begin walking towards the Austrian border in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary, on.<br />PHOTO: stuff

“We will all die here. We are not leaving.”

Abdul points to the lifeless body of a fellow Moroccan who electrocuted himself to death on Thursday by grabbing high-voltage train cables on the Greek border with Macedonia.

Police believed he did it intentionally, growing increasingly desperate after days trapped on the border.

Holding the man’s body, a group of Moroccan men advanced towards the border crossing with cries of “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest”). Greek police fired tear gas to push them back.

Another Moroccan had been badly burned in a similar incident on Saturday.

“We have been here for five days,” says Mohammed, also Moroccan.

“We have no food and we are cold. Why won’t they let us through? Aren’t we human? We are not terrorists,” he told AFP.

With Macedonian authorities only letting through refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, migrants from other countries have been blocked on the border with Greece for days or even weeks.

Their anger boiled over early Thursday. Groups of migrants seized communal tents operated by humanitarian agencies and destroyed some prefab houses set up by the UN refugee agency.

Aid staff were told to quickly relocate to a safe distance.

– ‘Attacked at dawn’ –
“We were attacked at dawn. Our safety was in jeopardy, so we decided to move out and see how the situation evolves,” said Antonis Rigas, head of the Doctors Without Borders mission to the area.

“International organisations and NGOs are advised not to enter the camp for security reasons,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

According to local police, there are more than 3,000 so-called economic migrants from Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and Bangladesh in the area, in addition to more than 2,500 Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.

Train connections between Greece and Macedonia have been blocked for days by Iranians occupying the railway tracks in protest at being blocked from moving on towards western Europe.

The IOM said leaflets had been handed out in four languages, advising the migrants to leave within three days.

“We are not economic migrants, we have money,” says Omid, a 35-year-old Iranian who was part of the border protest.

“I am Christian and in danger here. There are Muslims shouting ‘jihad’ and ‘kill for Allah’. This morning they attacked us with stones and crowbars,” he says.

Another fight broke out when some migrants blocked the passage of refugees entitled to pass.

Greek riot police reinforcements were rushed in after the rival groups began throwing stones at each other.

The authorities sent in two trains and buses, encouraging people with no hope of crossing the border to turn back to Athens and Thessaloniki — but only around 120 agreed to leave.

Yiannis Mouzalas, junior interior minister for migration, on Thursday told reporters that efforts would be made to end the border protest “without using violence”.

“There will be a solution within the next ten days,” he said, raising the prospect of more unrest between the rival groups.

Violence also broke out over the weekend as Macedonian crews raced to complete a three-kilometre (1.8-mile) fence on the frontier.

On Saturday, a group of migrants trying to enter Macedonia pelted police with stones while officers fired stun grenades in their direction.

Several Macedonian police and army vehicles were damaged and 18 police officers slightly injured in the protests.

The IOM estimated in late November that nearly 860,000 migrants had landed in Europe so far this year, with over 3,500 dying while crossing the Mediterranean in search of safety.

Since the summer, central and southeastern European countries have been tightening their borders to check the influx — a trend that has been accelerated by the November 13 jihadist attacks in Paris.

Two of the attackers slipped into Europe through Greece posing as refugees from Syria’s civil war, according to French prosecutors.

Since then, countries along the migrant route through the Balkans have tightened restrictions on migrants, allowing entry only to those fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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