Macedonia dumped about 1,500 migrants and refugees back into Greece overnight after they forced their way across the border, as European nations continued to pass the buck in a migration crisis that risks tearing the European Union apart.
The police action was part of a drive by Western Balkans states to shut down a migration route from Greece to Germany used by nearly a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Asia over the last year in Europe’s biggest refugee influx since World War Two.
EU efforts to conclude a deal with Turkey to halt the human tide in return for political and economic rewards hit a setback on Tuesday when EU member Cyprus vowed to block efforts to speed up Ankara’s EU accession talks unless Turkey meets its obligations to recognize its nationhood.
European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair an EU summit with Turkey on Thursday and Friday, was flying on to Ankara to discuss the fraying pact with Turkish leaders after tough talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
Tusk acknowledged to reporters that the tentative deal put together last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu raised legal problems and needed to be “rebalanced” to win acceptance from all 28 EU members.
The European Commission meanwhile postponed proposals to reform the bloc’s flawed asylum system, which puts the onus on the state where migrants first arrive, in an attempt to avoid further controversy before the Turkey deal is finalised.
Some 43,000 migrants are bottled up in Greece, overstraining the economically shattered euro zone country’s capacity to cope, and more continue to cross the Aegean daily from Turkey despite new NATO sea patrols.
An estimated 1,500 people marched out of a squalid transit camp near the northern Greek town of Idomeni on Monday, hiked for hours along muddy paths and forded a rain-swollen river to get around the border fence.
Most were picked up by Macedonian security forces, put into trucks and driven back over the border into Greece late Monday or overnight, a Macedonian police official said.
“It’s a long way from the camp to the mountains, it took me six hours of walking. At my age it was very difficult, I would walk and rest often,” said 60-year-old Mohammad Kattan, who slept rough in the mountains and trekked back on foot.
“My hope was to get to Macedonia, and get my papers stamped so that I could continue on to another country, to Serbia.”
Greek authorities said they could not confirm the return as there had been no official contact from the Macedonian side. Ties between the two neighbors are fraught because of Greece’s long-standing refusal to recognize Macedonia’s name, which is the same as that of a northern Greek province.
Read more: Yahoo News