THESSALONIKI, GREECE – Police have clashed with some 300 migrants and refugees at the Greek border with Macedonia, as protests intensified and thousands ignored government instructions to move to organized shelters.
Youths threw rocks at riot police, who withdrew from the area without making any arrests, authorities said Tuesday.
The protesters have blocked freight rail tracks for the past eight days, demanding that the border reopen. Macedonia says the border will remain closed to all migrants at least until the end of the year.
Some 12,000 people remain camped out in harsh conditions near the border village of Idomeni, despite daily calls by the government to move to nearby shelters built by the army.
The European Union, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the number of migrants leaving Turkey for Greece in search of sanctuary or jobs in Europe has dropped sharply over the last week.
EU Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said that “less than 1,000 people arrived last week, compared to average arrivals of 2,000 a day in previous weeks.”
Commission figures show that fewer than 600 people arrived over the four-day Easter weekend from Friday.
Under an EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara is supposed to stop migrants arriving in Europe and take back all people from Greece who do not qualify for asylum.
For the returns to Turkey to happen, Greece must change its laws and declare Turkey a “safe country” for the migrants. Athens agreed to do that by Monday, but drafting of the bill has taken longer than expected.