Greek islanders attack riot police in migrant camp protests

ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government hoped to defuse tensions after protests over plans for new migrant camps on two of its islands Wednesday turned into violent clashes between police and local residents, some armed with Molotov cocktails and shotguns.

Hundreds of residents attacked police officers guarding the sites of the future detention camps on the islands of Lesbos and Chios. A large crowd later laid siege for hours to a Lesbos army camp where riot-control squads were billeted.

Dozens of police officers were injured during the unrest, and the Greek government’s spokesman said many of the riot police deployed to the islands this week would be pulled out.

Government migration officials have vowed to press ahead with plans to replace overcrowded and squalid migrant camps with more restrictive detention centres. But local officials and residents oppose the plans, with many demanding that no migrants should remain on the islands.

Local authorities declared a 24-hour strike and staged large protest rallies that devolved into the violence Wednesday. Greek officials said 43 police officers were injured on Lesbos, which sees the most arrivals as migrants cross the sea from nearby Turkey. Two had leg wounds from shotgun blasts, officials said.

Another nine officers were injured on Chios, where an angry mob burst into a hotel used by riot police, beat up officers resting in their rooms and threw out their belongings.

One man was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack and another was being sought. Police said 10 protesters were injured on both islands.

Greece’s Aegean Sea islands are a main entry point for migrants seeking better lives in the European Union. Managing the flow of people — and growing discontent among island residents —has become the main challenge for the centre-right government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Mitsotakis invited regional and local officials for talks in Athens on Thursday.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said police showed “unprecedented restraint” during the clashes and riot squad members would be recalled once preparatory work was completed on the proposed detention centre construction sites.

“The first phase was completed on Lesbos today and will be completed tomorrow on Chios, and police will have no reason to stay there,” Petsas told private broadcaster Alpha TV. “Some of those that were sent from Athens will return, and the rest will stay in place.”

But he insisted that the planned centres would be built.

“The plan will go ahead and we need to see how it can be done best. It’s the only plan we have on the table,” he said.

Local authorities declared a 24-hour strike and staged large protest rallies Wednesday on Lesbos and Chios. H

Lesbos, and to a lesser extent Chios, annually receive tens of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The migrants cross from the nearby Turkish coast in small, unseaworthy boats provided by smuggling gangs.

Under a 2016 deal between the European Union and Turkey, migrants reaching the islands must stay there until their asylum requests are processed — and if these are rejected they must be taken back by Turkey.

But delays in the asylum process, coupled with increased migrant flows, placed massive strains on the system and led to a sharp deterioration of living conditions in existing camps whose populations burgeoned — despite Greek authorities moving people judged as vulnerable to the mainland. Furthermore, returns to Turkey have been negligible.

Lesbos, with a permanent population of 85,000, now has more than 21,000 migrants according to the latest official data available Wednesday.

Island residents and local authorities say they want all asylum seekers to be moved to the mainland. They oppose construction of the new facilities and want the old ones shut down.

Regional administration head Costas Moutzouris — who plans to attend the talks with the prime minister Thursday — berated the government for using police to cracl dpwm on the protesters but also appealed for calm from islanders.

“The people of Lesbos and Chios served for five years as a breakwater against the waves of immigration,” he said. “The government should be more sensitive towards them and the rest of Greece should show more understanding.”

Islanders said they would hold another 24-hour strike Thursday.

Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees arrived on Greek islands last year, almost double the number recorded in 2018, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Parliament may need to be recalled again to approve wage subsidy program

OTTAWA — Canadians are supposed to get more details today of the… Continue reading

A message from the Advocate publisher

In good times and bad, The Red Deer Advocate has been here… Continue reading

US death toll eclipses China’s as reinforcements head to NYC

NEW YORK — The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus climbed past… Continue reading

Long john producer Stanfield’s reacts to COVID-19 with ‘pivot’ to medical gowns

HALIFAX — A historic Canadian undergarment factory famed for long johns and… Continue reading

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada

The latest numbers of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases in Canada as… Continue reading

WATCH: Firefighters, RCMP help Red Deer boy celebrate 3rd birthday

Firefighters and RCMP officers helped a Red Deer boy celebrate his third… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services provides COVID-19 prevention tips

Alberta Health Services has a number of recommendations for people amid the… Continue reading

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

Organizations inject funds to support Canada’s arts sector during COVID-19

Arts organizations are injecting funds to help cultural institutions and creators stay… Continue reading

A message from Waskasoo Medical Clinic

A Message From Waskasoo Medical Clinic Waskasoo Medical Clinic (including our walk-in… Continue reading

Need a laugh? SiriusXM launches channel for female comics

NEW YORK — The midst of a global pandemic might seem like… Continue reading

Alberta’s energy war room to spend only on ‘subsistence operations’ due to COVID-19

Alberta’s energy war room to spend only on ‘subsistence operations’ due to COVID-19

Father of Humboldt Bronco disappointed Saskatchewan has relaxed trucking rules

Father of Humboldt Bronco disappointed Saskatchewan has relaxed trucking rules

Alberta education minister resists Opposition calls to rescind mass layoffs

Alberta education minister resists Opposition calls to rescind mass layoffs

Most Read