Migrant dies on Greek-Macedonian border as Greece seeks to end standoff

by Reuters
Thursday, 3 December 2015 18:12 GMT

A migrant holds a barbed wire fence at the Macedonian-Greek border, near Gevgelija, Macedonia, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Image Caption and Rights Information

While deaths at sea are common, the incident was the first casualty at the Greek-Macedonian land border

* Tensions flare at Greek-Macedonian border

* Greece says looking to resolve problem "soon"

* UNHCR calls on authorities to restore security

By Alexandros Avramidis

IDOMENI, Greece, Dec 3 (Reuters) - A Moroccan was electrocuted to death on the Greek-Macedonian border on Thursday in the second straight day of clashes between police and migrants stranded on the Greek side for weeks.

The 22-year-old man was the first person to die on the land border between the two countries, promting calls by human rights groups for both sides to protect migrants' safety, and promises by Greece find a quick solution to end the standoff.

The victim was among some 3,000 people, mostly from Pakistan, Iran and Morocco, stuck near the northern Greek town of Idomeni, demanding to cross into non-EU Macedonia and then on to northern Europe.

His charred body lay next to railway lines before being carried aloft in a plastic body bag by angry migrants in a protest march, a Reuters witness said.

Overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of people streaming into Europe this year, Balkan states began blocking passage last month to all but Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, who are regarded as refugees because they are fleeing conflict.

Macedonia has erected a metal fence to keep others out and plans to extend it to cover more than 40 km (25 miles) of the border, an intelligence source who described the area as "high risk," said on condition of anonymity.

Dozens of migrants continued to block the crossing for refugees for a second day on Thursday, pelting Macedonian riot police with stones. The police fired tear gas in response. As night fell, the demonstrators began allowing families to cross.

Violence broke out on Saturday after another man, also believed to be Moroccan, was badly burned when he climbed on top of a train wagon and was electrocuted.

"The situation has become quite tense," Frank Laczko, head of the International Organization for Migration's data analysis centre, told Reuters.

Human rights group Amnesty International called on Macedonia to stop what it called its discriminatory policy at the border because it was fuelling tensions.

It said it was alarmed by reports of Macedonian police officers firing rubber bullets at asylum-seekers and urged them to show restraint. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said Greece ought to restore security as a priority.

Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said the government planned to resolve the situation at the border within the next 10 days. He did not disclose how it would be done but said it would "inevitably be police-like in nature".

"We're trying to resolve the problem without using force, without bloodshed," he said. "Clearly this situation cannot go on indefinitely because if it does there will be casualties, there will be fights."

The government says it is trying to persuade those stuck at the border in squalid camps and near-freezing temperatures, to come to Athens and apply for asylum in Greece, saying there is accommodation available for them.

Yet no one has yet boarded a train chartered in Idomeni to bring them back to the capital, witnesses and the IOM said.

On Thursday, Greece activated the European Union's civil protection mechanism to help it tackle the crisis at Idomeni and on its islands, requesting aid in buses, clothes, portable toilets and showers and first aid kits, among others. (Additional reporting Karolina Tagaris in ATHENS, Kole Casule in SKOPJE, Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA and Michelle Martin in BERLIN; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Paul Taylor)

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