IDOMENI: Dozens of hopeful refugees, some carrying babies, rushed to Greece’s overwhelmed Idomeni camp on the sealed border with Macedonia on Sunday following speculation that the frontier would be forced open.
The attempted border run came as Greek authorities were trying to evacuate an estimated 11,500 people stranded at the squalid camp after Balkan states slammed shut their borders, cutting off the main migrant route to the European Union.
About 300 people of all ages gathered by the railway tracks and the border fence earlier Sunday, singing and shouting slogans, an AFP correspondent said, in a largely peaceful demonstration watched by Greek police in riot gear.
Some elderly handicapped refugees were sitting in wheelchairs sobbing while many other people, who had dismantled their tents in order to move quickly, were waving white handkerchiefs.
“No violence, we just want to cross,” read one banner, while another said: “Freedom of movement is everybody’s right.”
Some in the crowd, however, attempted to move towards the police line but were blocked by others who formed a human chain, the AFP correspondent said.
The commotion appeared to be triggered by a rumor that journalists and Red Cross officials would help migrants force their way across the fence into Macedonia, a young Syrian refugee told the Athens News Agency (ANA).
“They told us the Red Cross and 500 journalists from all over the world will be with us,” he said, without specifying the source.
Another young Syrian said his sister, who is living in Germany, had seen the same claim on the Internet and alerted him.
“I think it’s very dangerous to cross, especially for the children but what should we do?” 24-year-old Qasim Mosawy from Afghanistan told Agence France-Presse.
Dozens of other migrants could be seen heading through the fields, some carrying babies, towards the Idomeni crossing.
Using loudspeakers, Greek officials told those gathering that the crossing would remain closed, repeating the message in both Arabic and Farsi, ANA said.
“Some people, for reasons we don’t understand, are creating false hope,” said Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for the SOMP agency which is coordinating Athens’ response to the refugee crisis.
As it became clear the frontier would stay sealed, calm returned to the camp and Greek authorities resumed evacuating refugees from Idomeni, with two buses leaving for centers in northern Greece on Sunday afternoon.