New tensions erupted on Saturday outside a migrant camp in northern Greece between migrants and Greek police who prevented them from advancing towards the border with North Macedonia.
Hundreds of migrants from camps elsewhere in the country gathered outside the Diavata camp near Thessaloniki after anonymous social media posts over recent days claimed that human rights groups stood ready to assist migrants in crossing into North Macedonia and on to other EU states.
After two coaches left the area on Saturday morning, taking some of the protesting migrants to other camps in northern Greece, a group of the 800 remaining migrants threw stones at policemen, who responded with tear gas, an AFP photographer on the spot said.
On Friday, the migrants – among them families with small children – had tried to break the police cordon and security forces used tear gas and stun grenades.
Also on Friday, around 200 migrants occupied the Larissis central train station in Athens, shouting “Saloniki” (Thessaloniki) and “Germany”.
They had bought tickets to Thessaloniki, intending to also travel to the Diavata camp but authorities stopped the train.
“People exhorted by fake news were misled because of their hope. They want to pass the border so they believed in the fake news”, Greece’s migration minister Dimitris Vitsas said on Saturday.
“For some reason, smugglers are claiming that the borders will open. The borders are not going to open,” Vitsas told state agency ANA on Friday.
North Macedonia’s interior minister said Skopje had bolstered border security.
“We don’t expect any trouble. But we reinforced the security on the border because it is our obligation,” Oliver Spasovski told AFP on Friday.
More than 70,000 refugees and migrants are believed to be living in Greece as a result of mass influx since 2015, fueled mainly by the Syrian civil war.
Most have submitted requests for asylum, clogging an already overburdened application system and further exacerbating approval delays that can stretch into years.
In 2016, a sprawling tent city formed at the border town of Idomeni, a bottleneck where 8,000 people mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were stranded after other EU countries began shutting their borders.
The improvised camp was eventually cleared by Greek authorities and the migrants and refugees were relocated to organized facilities around the country.