Afghan migrants stage protest near Greece-Macedonia border

Afghan migrants stage protest near Greece-Macedonia border

Hundreds of migrants stranded in northern Greece joined a protest and said they would stage a hunger strike on Monday (February 22) after moves by neighbouring Macedonia to impose further controls over the flow of people moving through the country to Western Europe.

At a crossing at Idomeni, which straddles the Greek-Macedonian border, about 1,200 Syrians and Iraqis had gathered along with 400 Afghans waiting for passage.

Another 1,000 people were moving to the border on foot, walking a 20-km distance from where they had been dropped off by buses, and 1,200 waiting at another.

Hundreds of Afghans joined a sit-in near the border crossing and said they would go on hunger strike, demanding to be granted passage into Macedonia and onwards to western Europe.

“You know, we came to Greece. If they really, they made such a decision, why did not inform all over the world, something like three weeks before, because we made a long journey, we passed already a lot of trains to arrive over here, and also, when we come to the Greece, to Lesbos island, then we receive permission letter to stay in Greece. What does it mean? If they really don’t want us to cross the border why did they issue the papers for us?,” one migrant from Afghanistan, Salih, said.

“Our plan is either to cross the border or to die over here. There is no place for us to go back to Afghanistan. All the Afghans, especially me, I am a soft target for the Taliban in Afghanistan,” Salih added.

Greek officials say the flow of people across the border has slowed after restrictions imposed by Macedonian authorities who want additional identification from people to allow passage, including from Syrian refugees.

Balkan states along the migrant route northwards to western and northern Europe have begun denying passage to all those not coming from conflict regions of Syria and Iraq.

Macedonia has erected two lines of metal fencing topped with razor wire at the main crossing point for migrants along its southern border with Greece.

“They are telling us that: ‘We closed the border, we don’t let you to go.’ So, we are coming because of war there, there is war in our country, because of that we are coming here. They should let us go, they should let us to pass [through] the border, so we should arrive to Germany or other countries,” a migrant from Afghanistan, Mohammed, said.

“Yes, we will be hungry,” he added when asked whether they intended a hunger strike.

Austria said on Sunday (February 21) it had invited Balkan states to a meeting on migration in Vienna on February 24, a day before European Union interior ministers were due to meet on the migrant crisis.

Vienna has angered other EU member states by imposing a cap on asylum claims, letting in no more than 3,200 migrants onto its territory per day, and introducing a daily cap of 80 asylum claims.

Its interior minister has said said the country could impose even stricter controls, a move which will likely trigger a domino affect to the countries being used as a Balkans corridor from Greece.

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