Greek police evacuate people on the Greek island of Samos on late Monday, October 14, 2019. Greek authorities evacuaed the camp where the large fire broke out following clashes between residents | Photo: AP Photo/Michael Svarnias
Greek police evacuate people on the Greek island of Samos on late Monday, October 14, 2019. Greek authorities evacuaed the camp where the large fire broke out following clashes between residents | Photo: AP Photo/Michael Svarnias

In Vathy, in the overcrowded migrant camp on the Greek island of Samos, news agencies are reporting that riots have broken out. Fires were started and the police were met with stones and protests when they arrived to break up the unrest.

According to the German press agency dpa, local media reported that the Greek police set off tear gas to try and calm the protests at the Greek island camp of Vathy on Thursday morning.

Migrants are reported to have started fires and thrown stones at the police in protest at the overcrowded conditions in the camp. Schools in a 600-meter radius from the camp were reportedly evacuated because of the smoke from the fires.

Dpa says that the protests are thought to have come this time from the African community in the camp who have been demanding for days that they be transferred to the Greek mainland.

At the moment it is estimated that are more than 7,500 migrants in Vathy, many of them unaccompanied children and young adults.  According to the UNHCR, the camp has a capacity of just 648.

Similar clashes in October

InfoMigrants reported that similar clashes broke out in the same camp in October 2019. At that point the trouble stemmed from a “mass brawl” between Afghan and Syrian residents, which “forced police to use tear gas to disperse the crowd.”

At that time, the medical charity, Doctors without Borders (MSF) said that almost half of the camp’s inhabitants were women and children. In November, the International President of MSF Christos Christou tweeted after visiting Samos that he had seen “a protracted state of human tragedy.”

Numbers keep increasing

According to the UNHCR’s latest data, more than 71,000 migrants have arrived in Greece this year alone. Although the Greek government has been making efforts to transfer people from overcrowded accommodation on the islands to the Greek mainland, there are still “some 40,500 refugees and migrants residing on the Aegean islands.” The majority of that population is from Afghanistan (around 45%), Syria (20%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (6%).

The authorities have been transferring around 1,000 people every week to the mainland but more people continue to arrive. In the week 9-15 December almost 2,000 people arrived with a little more than 1,000 on Lesbos and 208 on the island of Samos.

On December 10, MSF Germany posted pictures of a makeshift room in the Vathy camp.  They tweeted in German: “This is a bathroom. Difficult to believe don’t you think? What is even more difficult to believe is that this ‘bathroom’ is where three small children have to shower, and that this ‘bathroom’ is in Europe. This is the sad reality of life for around 2,500 children living in the Vathy camp on Samos.”

Tense situation

Samos’ mayor Georgios Stantzos has been speaking out for months about security problems related to the overcrowding in the camps, according to the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit. On December 18, an English language local website Greek Reporter posted a video from “Samos24.gr” in which Stantzos was filmed in the town square chasing migrants and shouting “Go the F**k Away.” Greek Reporter added that “his intervention followed a police operation to disperse a demonstration on the square.”

The mayor reportedly told Greek Reporter that he regretted using foul language but said that it was “a knee-jerk response to an incident which could have turned very violent. It was a human response to a very tense situation.” The mayor added that the migrants had been blocked from occupying the square and that on the way to their demonstration they had “vandalized at least five cars.”

Stantzos said that his reactions and those of his fellow islanders were “not racist” and that he was just against the few migrants who “were intent on creating trouble.” Stantzos told Greek reporter that the overcrowding had become a “human rights problem [and] a law and order issue as severe delinquency problems arise.”

He called for the Greek government to “take urgent steps to de-congest Samos and the other islands.”

On Thursday it was reported that Greece was expecting more than 100,000 arrivals from Turkey in 2020. This will “further place a strain on its already bursting migrant camps,” wrote Deutsche Welle.

Manos Logothetis, government commissioner for migration in Greece told the German Funke media group on Wednesday: “The crisis is happening now, and it is serious.”

 

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