NEWS

Macedonia Sends Hundreds Of Refugees Back To Greece

03/15/2016 10:52 EDT | Updated 03/15/2016 10:59 EDT

IDOMENI, Greece — Macedonia sent back hundreds of refugees to Greece on Tuesday, a day after they bypassed a border fence in a mass push to continue their journey north to Europe's prosperous heartland — a move Greece blamed on "criminal misinformation'' possibly spread by volunteers working with them.

Interior Ministry spokesman Toni Angelovski told The Associated Press the migrants "have been returned to Greece.''

About 1,500 people, frustrated at being stuck for weeks in a waterlogged tent city outside the closed crossing of Idomeni, pushed their way into Macedonia on Monday through an unguarded section of the border. They walked about 5 kilometres (3 miles) and forded a swollen stream near the Greek village of Hamilo.

A Macedonian official said 700 migrants who had been detained overnight were deported to Greece through the same location they entered. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the press, also said about 50 journalists and volunteers detained with the migrants were released after paying fines of 250 euros ($280) for illegally entering Macedonia.

macedonia refugees Thousands of refugees trying to cross the border illegally from Idomeni, to reach Macedonia. (Photo: Getty Images)

Greek police said groups of migrants were seen coming back to Greece from unguarded sections of the border east and west of Idomeni — although Greece says it received no official notification or repatriation request from Macedonia. A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in Idomeni, Babar Baloch, confirmed that many had returned to Idomeni.

About 200 people who had camped overnight near Hamilo went back to Idomeni on Tuesday, while Macedonian police guarded the area. It was not possible to account for all the migrants.

Despite repeated Greek appeals for them to move to available organized shelters, about 14,000 people are stuck in the Idomeni tent city in swampy conditions after days of heavy rain, and hundreds were queuing under a shelter Tuesday for food handouts.

"As long as (refugees) still believe that there is a chance of getting through (to Macedonia), this will continue,'' Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas said. "There is no way the border will open.''

"This tests the principles and values of the civilized world, and Europe."

For months, hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa flowed through Idomeni, on their way to seek asylum in central Europe. But a tightening in border controls that started in Austria and extended down the Balkan migration route ended in a total border closure last week. Now, about 44,000 people are stranded in Greece, after crossing from nearby Turkey in flimsy smugglers' boats.

The European Union's commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos — a Greek politician — visited Idomeni Tuesday and deplored the "tragic, unacceptable'' conditions he saw.

"This tests the principles and values of the civilized world, and Europe,'' he said. "This situation must end immediately.''

Avramopoulos also appealed to EU countries to honour the bloc's commitments to share out asylum-seekers.

Mass movement blamed on misleading flyers

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras blamed Monday's mass move to circumvent the border fence on misleading leaflets distributed at Idomeni, which encouraged the refugees to make a concerted push north.

Tsipras said "unknown people, perhaps groups that call themselves volunteers,'' handed out leaflets advising migrants to cross the border by bypassing the fence and warning that if migrants left the overflowing Idomeni camp for shelters in northern Greece, they would be imprisoned there.

"This is criminal behaviour toward people who face great hardship,'' Tsipras said. "This must stop.''

Greek police are investigating the incident.

macedonia refugees Refugees rest as they return to a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni on March 15, 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tsipras urged the refugees to leave Idomeni for the shelters, and called on volunteers working with them to help scotch false rumours.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki, in a statement, said only a "united and humane'' response from the European Union can solve the continent's migration problem.

"More migrants in deteriorating tent cities at the border only encourages (people) smuggling,'' Poposki said.

___

Testorides reported from Skopje, Macedonia. Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed.

Also on HuffPost

  • LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/Getty Images
    ギリシャ北部のイドメニ村近くにある、ギリシャとマケドニア国境にある簡易宿泊所。女性が子供を連れて歩いている。新しい国境規制の下ではほとんどの人が国境通過が許されない。しかしそれでも、多くの移民や難民が国境へ向けて旅を続けている。3月3日撮影。
  • LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/Getty Images
    イラクから来たヤジディ教徒の人々。わずかな身の回りの品を抱え、簡易宿泊所に到着した。
  • Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
    平原を歩いてギリシャとマケドニアの国境に向かう難民の家族。
  • Vadim Ghirda/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    車椅子に乗り、ギリシャ・マケドニア国境に向かう高齢の女性。
  • Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
    体の不自由な子供を抱え、ギリシャとマケドニアの国境を渡るために待つ女性。2016年3月3日撮影。
  • Awakening/Getty Images
    イドメニで、マケドニアに入国するのを待つ大勢の移民。2016年3月2日撮影。
  • Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
    ギリシャ・マケドニア国境で、登録書類のために並ぶ人々。3月3日撮影。
  • Visar Kryeziu/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    マケドニアに入国するため、ギリシャで待つ難民。マケドニアの町ゲヴゲリヤはもうすぐ目の前にある。3月3日撮影。
  • LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
    イドメニにある簡易滞在所。テントの奥からは煙が立ち上っている。
  • Vassilis Ververidis/Motion Team/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    キャンプの過密によって緊張が高まり、物資が不足している。
  • Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
    数千人の子供たちが、国境で足止めを食らっている。3月3日撮影。
  • LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/Getty Images
    ギリシャとマケドニア国境に立つ幼い子供。3月3日撮影。
  • LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/Getty Images
    木を運びながらイドメニの簡易滞在所に向かう年配の女性。
  • LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
    イドメニの簡易収容所で、肩車をしてもらいながら「国境を開けろ」と書いた紙を掲げる子供。国境近くで足止めされている移民・難民たちは、毎日のようにデモ活動をして絶望的な状況を訴えている。
  • Petros Giannakouris/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    イドメニで抗議活動をする難民や移民たち。鉄道の線路をふさいでいる。2月28日に撮影。
  • LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/Getty Images
    人でごった返すイドメニの簡易宿泊所で、ミルクを待つ移民の子供。国境が通過できないため人口が増え、急速な食糧不足に陥っている。
  • Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
    イドメニを通過する電車を目の前にして、警察官の前に座る幼い男の子。
  • SAKIS MITROLIDIS/Getty Images
    線路の上を歩く一人の子供。
  • Vadim Ghirda/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ギリシャとマケドニア国境近くの線路上で、転んでしまった子供。
  • Vadim Ghirda/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ギリシャ・マケドニア国境に張られた有刺鉄線のそばに座る男性。