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Protests erupt in Greece over migrant saturation

Mass protests against the admission of asylum seekers began on the Greek islands on Wednesday. The motto: "We want our islands back, we want our lives back."

Published: January 23, 2020, 10:13 am

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    The AFP news agency reported that the demonstrators were calling for the immediate expulsion of asylum seekers from the islands.

    There were also work stoppages. According to the BBC, in addition to the strikes in the public service, numerous shops, pharmacies and petrol stations remained closed. By midday, thousands had gathered on the streets of Lesbos and Samos.

    According to the Greek Ministry of Civil Protection, some 7 200 asylum seekers are currently live among the 6 500 locals on Samos. Around 42 000 immigrants currently living on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

    Last fall, Greece tightened its asylum policy after violent riots in a “refugee” camp on the island of Lesbos. The country hit the headlines in April 2019 when hundreds of asylum seekers tried to make their way from their camp near Thessaloniki to Europe. The EU Commission had described the conditions in the Greek camps as “a shame for Europe”.

    Over 120 German cities have now agreed to accept asylum seekers from the islands. German Green Party leader Robert Habeck had asked at the end of 2019 to bring the children living in the camps to Germany.

    The islands, between Turkey and Greece, saw thousands of people demanding the immediate departure of the migrants. According to the latest UNHCR data, the majority are from Afghanistan (48 percent), Syria (20 percent) and Palestinian territories (6 percent).

    Crowded camps, endless arrivals and a local population on the Aegean islands angry with a continuous and substantial flow of migrants resulted in demonstrators also waving Greek flags.

    The symbol of the saturation of the camps, that of Morio, on the island of Lesbos, welcomed more than 19 000 asylum seekers when it can shelter only 2 840, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

    Last week, riots between African and Afghan migrants broke out at the Moria camp after a man died of stab wounds. Several dozen migrants set fire to trash bins and blocked traffic. A 27-year-old Afghan migrant was arrested in connection with the murder.

    In 2019, Greece once again became the primary gateway for migrants to Europe. Last year, according to the UNHCR, the country registered 59 700 arrivals by sea, and 14 800 by land, for a total 74 600 arrivals.

    The Greek Minister for Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, said that ” the government’s objective is to reduce the migratory flow by strengthening border security and speeding up asylum procedures and the increase in the number of removals of migrants who are not entitled to international protection”.

    Greece’s conservative government has reinstated the migration ministry six months after it had scrapped it.

    Last year, the Greek government said the three largest migrant camps on the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios, near the Turkish coast, will be closed and replaced by closed structures, reported French daily Le Monde. These camps previously accommodated more than 27 000 people.

    Schools, religious centers, medical facilities, and so on are planned so that the illegals do not leave their camp. They will no longer be able to move around the islands or have contact with local communities until the examination of their request is completed.

    “We are closing the migrant camps soon. It is a message sent to all those who plan to enter the country illegally when they do not qualify for asylum,” said Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas at the time.  But on Chios, local council members had announced protests after the local municipal council rejected government proposals to open a new, closed pre-departure center for migrants on the island.

    This decision was “quite simply scandalous” for Amnesty International which denounced “modern prisons with inhuman living conditions” . The NGO was particularly indignant that “all new arrivals will be automatically and indiscriminately detained for up to 36 months, according to new legislation [passed end of October, note]” .

    But for the newly elected Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, this measure could especially make it possible to return nearly 10 000 rejected asylum seekers to Turkey. “Turkey needs to do more. The recent increase in the flow of migrants and refugees in the Aegean Sea is intolerable,”  he said from Zagreb on November 21, 2109, during a visit.

    He took the opportunity to attack the European Union, which refused to share between the member states some 3 000 unaccompanied minors. “Unfortunately, I regret to say that the response was not positive and that does not do Europe justice,” he said.

    Last year, ten Syrians disguised as volleyball players were arrested at Athens airport. They were trying to reach Switzerland.

    But these Syrian migrants did not succeed in their attempt. The BBC reported on the ten Syrians who had decided to disguise themselves as … volleyball players: the same sports bags, identical tracksuits and even volleyballs.

    With this ploy, they thought they would foil the vigilance of the security services at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens. To make their story credible, they even had fake Ukrainian passports in their possession.

    But at the time of the check, the authorities discovered the ploy. According to first reports, they wanted to go to Zurich in Switzerland. For Syrians who are trying to flee their country, Greece is a gateway to the European continent, with the islands of Lesbos, Kos and Samos, which now suffer from “overcrowding” .

    Since 2011, 5,6 million Syrians have left their country to flee war, the United Nations High Commissioner noted. Many then try their luck in Europe.

    The Greek government earlier this month announced a list with 12 countries that are considered safe to return rejected asylum seekers to, but NGOs criticized the move, claiming that it would endanger asylum seekers, especially gay and transgender people.

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    • LuciusAnnaeusSeneca

      The best thing do do would be to get the migrants out of camps on the larger, populated Islands, and send the illegal migrants from Turkey to new detention centers. But it would be a victory for the pro-mass migration lobby and the migrants to let them on the mainland, where they will be able to get transport through the Balkans to EU countries. So keep them on the islands, but put them on new camps located on uninhabited ones where they can’t bother any locals and can be better kept under watch. There are a lot of such islands in the Aegean.

      Meanwhile, Greece needs to bolster its navy and coast guard to keep these people from entering its territorial waters. They’ll eventually need this naval plus-up anyway, sooner or later, against Turkish aggression.

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