In Depth

Dozens injured in Greek protests over new migrant centres

Islanders broke into hotel housing riot police and beat officers

More than 60 people have been hurt in clashes between riot police and anti-migrant protesters on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.

More than 1,000 people attended a protest in Lesbos, while around 2,000 people took to the streets on Chios.

What are the protests about?

Greek authorities have pledged to build new migrant camps to replace overcrowded facilities on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos.

The five islands lie off the coast of Turkey, on a route used by hundreds of thousands of migrants to cross to Europe in recent years.

Following weeks of talks with local people – who generally oppose the new centres – the government secretly shipped construction machinery and hundreds of riot police officers to Lesbos and Chios, reports the BBC.–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

What happened in Lesbos?

Large crowds gathered on Tuesday and Wednesday, attempting to approach a site earmarked for a migrant centre.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked roads leading to the construction site with rubbish trucks and cars. Among them were regional governor Kostas Moutzouris and West Lesbos’s mayor Taxiarchis Verros, say local reports.

On Wednesday, 43 police and 10 protesters were hurt. Local police said more than 1,000 people gathered at the site, throwing stones at officers.

Police attempted to disperse demonstrators with tear gas and stun grenades.

“It is a day of shame for all, and mostly for those who ordered these actions,” governor Moutzouris said of the police response. “It is a shame for the islanders to be beaten and to suffer from tear gas. Not even the military junta did these things,” Al Jazeera reports.

“Our great fear when passions are so high is that blood will be spilt,” said Efstratios Tzimis, the deputy mayor of Mytilene, Lesbos’s main town. “It’s a very bad turn of events when Greeks turn against Greeks,” says The Guardian.

What happened in Chios?

On Tuesday, hooded protesters pelted riot police with rocks.

On Wednesday, the situation escalated, with around 2,000 people taking to the streets in Chios to voice their opposition to the new centre.

A police spokesman said that one group broke into a hotel where riot officers from mainland Greece were staying, attacking and injuring eight of them.

Video footage posted online shows a group of people bursting into the hotel, beating police and throwing objects from windows.

At least 52 riot police officers and 10 protesters were hurt in Wednesday’s protests, according to local media.

What will happen next?

The Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for calm. He is set to meet the regional governor and local mayors of the islands to discuss the ongoing protests.

Despite the chaos, Mitsotakis has vowed to press ahead with the plans for new migrant camps.

Authorities on the Greek islands want refugees to be transported to the mainland and dispersed among other EU countries.

But the Greek migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, said that moving asylum seekers to the mainland would only be “a pull factor” for those making the journey and the traffickers exploiting them.

Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, Greece director of the International Rescue Committee, said the demonstrations were the result of overcrowding, which “is good for no one; local communities feel their islands have been transformed into giant prisons, while asylum seekers are forced to live in dangerous conditions”.

Around 19,000 people are currently at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, which was originally designed to accommodate fewer than 3,000.

Manos Logothetis, the general secretary of the Greek ministry of migration and asylum, said of Moria: “It is not an honour for any state to have such centres. It is critical that these [new] centres happen.”

Filippo Grandi, UN high commissioner for refugees, recently called for an end to the “shocking and shameful” conditions at the camps.

Meanwhile, the Greek government has reportedly dispatched more riot police to Lesbos in anticipation of further unrest, reports Al Jazeera.

Michael Trammer, a German journalist present at the protests in Lesbos, told the broadcaster he expected troubles to intensify.

“There are more police coming to the island, but also this means that there is also going to be more resistance by locals – because they feel like the central Athens government is overriding their decision on how this should be dealt with,” he said. “So I would expect more resistance and more police and an increasingly tense situation.”


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