Refugees and migrants board a ferry on the island of Lesbos, Greece | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/Michael Varaklas
Refugees and migrants board a ferry on the island of Lesbos, Greece | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/Michael Varaklas

Greek authorities were forced to abandon plans to house about 400 migrants in a small seaside village in northern Greece after Greek villagers vehemently opposed the migrants' settlement in local hotels by stoning their buses. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was concerned but spoke of an "isolated case."

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Thursday voiced concern following a violent attack in northern Greece on migrant buses carrying 380 people.

Despite a police presence, nine buses taking families and vulnerable migrants to hotels in Nea Vrasna, some 40 kilometers east of Thessaloniki, were forced to turn back as dozens of villagers blocked the road and hurled stones at the busses.

According to images broadcast by public television ERT, the protesters chanted "close the border" and "throw out illegal migrants." The migrants were finally taken to hotels on the island of Eubee, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the south.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in an online statement expressed concern "about the violent incidents that took place in the area of Vrasna."

While it termed the attack "an isolated incident,” the IOM urged government and non-government groups "to work together in order to prevent" similar situations from happening again.

Main entry point

Greece has once again become the main point of entry for people seeking asylum in Europe, posing a challenge for the conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis that took over in July.

With over 50,000 arrivals so far this year, some 45,000 of them by sea, Greece leads all EU member states - by far: In fact, Greece’s figure is greater than the combined total of fellow EU countries Spain, Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria, according to IOM data.

The Greek government wants to create 20,000 places for migrants stranded on the small Greek islands in the Aegean Sea near the Turkish coast. In early September, it began moving asylum seekers from the overcrowded camps to the mainland. At present, however, the effort is not nearly enough to ease the overcrowding on the islands as the number of arrivals still exceeds the number of those brought to the mainland.

Scores of migrants continue to arrive daily in the hopes of eventually travelling from Lesbos, Samos or one of the other Greek islands onwards to wealthy European countries. The camps on the islands, most of them vastly overcrowded, unhygienic and violence-prone, at present house over 30,000 migrants and refugees.

In their statement, IOM not only expressed concern amid the violence but also commended the Greek people for their “remarkable attitude vis a vis migrant” that’d last "until today."

A report by global non-profit organization More In Common from May, which surveyed 2,000 people aged 18 to 64 about attitudes towards national identity, immigration and refugees in Greece, found that Greeks were mostly empathetic towards migrants and refugees.

Yet with arrivals in Greece having increased dramatically in recent months bringing facilities on the Greek islands to the brink of collapse, the attitude might have changed since May.

Map of Turkey, Greece | Credit: InfoMigrantsIn neighboring Turkey, which currently hosts some 4 million migrants, the population’s attitude toward refugees and migrants has already worsened. Yet whereas the change for the worse in Turkey is usually attributed to the country's severe economic crisis, the Financial Times recently said Greece's economy was resurging.

Greece currently hosts around 70,000 asylum seekers, mainly Syrians and Afghans. There are fears that Turkey's offensive in Syria, currently halted, will spark a new migration wave to Europe.

Opposition to government plans

Local Greek residents aren’t the only ones who have begun to push back against the government's plans: In fact, Wednesday’s incident in Vrasna seems to be indicative of the growing trend of opposition to the government’s plan to house migrants and refugees in hotels on the mainland.

In the town of Penteli in the northern outskirts of Athens, for instance, local officials refused to take in a group of unaccompanied minors.

And several hoteliers refused to participate in a housing program drafted by Greece’s Citizens Protection Ministry.

But there were also signs of solidarity: People who support the migrants have launched a leaflet campaign, and red paint was splattered on the Penteli town hall early Thursday, Greek media reported.

With material from AFP

 

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