Macedonia returns migrants to Greece ahead of summit

EU officials seek support for deal with Turkey in talks this week to stem refugee crisis

Migrants in a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni, Greece, near the Macedonian border. Photograph: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

Migrants in a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni, Greece, near the Macedonian border. Photograph: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

 

Macedonia has returned hundreds of migrants to Greece after they bypassed a security fence and waded through a swollen stream to cross the border, amid urgent EU efforts to secure support for a deal with Turkey this week to stem the refugee crisis.

A government spokesman in Macedonia said the migrants had been stopped and peacefully taken back across its southern border, but Greece complained that the group had effectively been dumped at an unofficial crossing point. Some of the migrants claimed to have been beaten by Macedonian police.

The asylum seekers, most of whom are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, were returned to fields around the Greek border village of Idomeni. The site has become a squalid camp for about 14,000 of some 44,000 refugees and migrants who have been stranded in Greece since Balkan states to the north refused them admission.

Facilities

“This is criminal behaviour towards people who face great hardship. This must stop,” said Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, saying the leaflets were handed out by “unknown people, perhaps groups that call themselves volunteers”.

Greek migration minister Ioannis Mouzalas added: “As long as [migrants] still believe that there is a chance of getting through, this will continue . . . There is no way the border will open.”

People smugglers

Nato

Leaders of EU states and Turkey will meet Thursday and Friday to discuss proposals for the EU to resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey in exchange for every migrant Turkey takes back from Greece. For its part, Ankara wants €6 billion in aid, visa-free access for Turks to the EU and an acceleration of the country’s halting bid to join the bloc.

The effort to tackle Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the second World War faces major challenges, however, ranging from fears over the “swap” deal’s legality to many EU states’ refusal to take refugees under a quota plan devised by Germany.

European Council president Donald Tusk flew to Turkey on Tuesday to discuss the deal, after talks with President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus.