Migrants from Lesvos and Chios disembark from the ferry 'Nissos Samos' upon their arrival to the port of Piraeus, Greece |  Photo: EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS
Migrants from Lesvos and Chios disembark from the ferry 'Nissos Samos' upon their arrival to the port of Piraeus, Greece | Photo: EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

More protests have been planned for next week on the Greek island of Chios after the local municipal council of the eastern Aegean island rejected government proposals to open a new, closed pre-departure center for migrants on the island.

The Greek central government has called on local municipal governments to come to "unity on the refugee issue" and to support government plans to build new closed facilities for migrants and refugees on the Greek Aegean islands. Local officials on Chios and other islands, however, have rallied behind the decision to reject government plans that include the construction of a 5,000 capacity facility on the island of Chios.

Local council members have announced an emergency assembly on Wednesday next week as well as protests on Chios and the other North East Aegean islands on January 22-23.

The vice-chancellor of Chios, Pantelis Bogdanos, said that the local municipal council would only accept "an identification center for 500 people" adding "the Regional Council will finalize its mobilizations and we are open to other proposals." 

Chaos as minister is jeered at meeting 

On Monday during a marathon meeting, Deputy Labour Minister and Chios MP Notis Mitarachi, who presented the Greek government's plans, was jeered by baying crowds of locals outside the venue where the meeting took place. 

Speaking at the municipal council, Mitarachi commented that creating the new, closed facility on the island "is a prerequisite for the transfer of migrants and refugees and the eventual closure of the current overcrowded VIAL center", a place where living conditions are considered squalid and inhumane. 

On Tuesday, Mitarachi insisted that the plan to build the new site would go ahead. He said: "The government's plans are comprehensive and will be judged in practice [not on paper]". 

According to the governing New Democracy's plans to decongest the Greek islands, which was announced by government spokesman Stelios Petsas and Deputy Minister of National Defense Alkiviadis Stefanis, the proposed facility at Chios is one of five similar sites that are planned in order to replace the current "open" camps such as those at Moria on Lesvos and Vathi on neighboring Samos. 

Promises of new government

The conservative government was elected on the back of promises to "solve" the country's ongoing refugee crisis. But while some measures have been put in place to speed up asylum application processes, transfers of people from the islands to the mainland, as well as tougher legislative measures and border security with the help of Frontex, the Greek state is nonetheless struggling to deal with the situation. 

Kyriakos Mitsotakis' new government did introduce stricter legislation on migration in December with the aim of limiting new arrivals as much as possible, increase deportations of failed asylum seekers, and establish more restrictive "closed" holding centers. This came into force on the back of a huge spike in migrant and refugee arrivals from neighboring Turkey in recent months, with tens of thousands of people crammed into the small identification and reception centers on the Aegean islands which have long exceeded their capacity. 

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