False Facebook Post Greek Borders Open Drew Migrant Rush

A policeman kicks a protesting migrant during clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Hundreds of migrants who flocked to Greece’s border with North Macedonia in a desperate rush to get to other European Union countries and escape long detention went there after a false post by a pro-refugee group on Facebook they would be allowed to cross.

That report spread rapidly on social media and sent some 500 people, including families with young children, scurrying to the closed-off border where some engaged in clashes with riot police trying to stop them from getting over fences into North Macedonia, which doesn’t want them.

The fake news led to the parade of people trying to get out of Greece, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki, with those held in detention centers and camps for two years or more weary of waiting for asylum applications to be processed.

Groups of mostly young men threw stones and other objects at  who responded with tear gas with one scene showing a man throwing a young girl onto the shields of riot police, an incident that was condemned by government ministers and other officials.

Children cry after police used tear gas during clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Friday, April 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

The images reminded of chaos in 2015 and 2016 when more than a million people were sent by human traffickers in Turkey, where refugees fleeing war and strife in the Middle East had first gone, being sent to Greek islands on rickety craft and rubber dinghies, many drowning.

Tens of thousands of people then made it to preferred destinations in central and western Europe before the borders were shut to them and the problem dumped on Greece during a nearly nine-year-long economic and austerity crisis. A European Union swap deal with Turkey has seen only a relative handful returned and 70,000 still stuck in Greece.