policija, migranti, grčka, makedonija, izbjeglice.jpg
Photograph: EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI

Macedonian police fired tear gas at hundreds of migrants after they stormed a metal fence along the border with Greece on Monday, as refugees were blocked from travelling between the two countries on the main route to Western Europe.

After days of waiting to enter Macedonia from Greece, migrants ran for the fence apparently on a rumor that Macedonia was planning to open the gate and allow them to continue their journey. Border police told dpa in Athens that the rumour was not true.

Greek state broadcasters showed a group of migrants reaching the fence and tearing a gate down as Macedonian police tried to support it from the other side.

Migration restrictions along the so-called Balkan route, the main path for migrants from Greece to other EU countries, has left thousands stranded at the border between Greece and neighbouring Macedonia.

Macedonia and other countries on the Balkan route - Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia - now allow no more than 500 people through per day, amid concerns that they may end up with a backlog of refugees if Austria or Germany stop admitting them.

Due to the border restrictions, 7,000 people are stuck at the refugee camp near the village Idomeni on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia. The facility - where the border was stormed Monday - is intended only to hold 2,000 people temporarily before they continue their travels.

In Brussels, the European Commission said it is working on contingency plans to help Greece reinforce its reception capacities, improve its border management and step up efforts to relocate asylum seekers within Europe or return those not eligible for protection.

"There is emergency funding which can be disbursed quite quickly," said commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva. "We just received the needs assessment [from Greece] and are looking to follow up as quickly as possible," she added.

If border restrictions to the north remain and the inflow does not abate, then the numbers of migrants stranded in Greece may grow to 70,000 by the end of March, the Greek minister in charge of migration, Ioannis Mouzalas, said over the weekend.

Officials also warn that Greece, still mired in economic woes, is not equipped to deal with a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude.

In Geneva, speaking ahead of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) Council's spring session, UNHCR chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Monday urged countries on the path of refugees to take responsibility for protecting them instead of restricting their movement to safety.

"To keep building higher walls against the flight of these desperate people is an act of cruelty and a delusion," Zeid said, adding that restrictions will concentrate the refugees in countries closer to zones of conflict.

More than 120,000 people have made it to Greece since the start of the year, after more than 850,000 migrants arrived in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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