Residents protesting against the creation of a new refugee and migrant facility on Chios island | Photo: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS
Residents protesting against the creation of a new refugee and migrant facility on Chios island | Photo: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS

The Greek government's announcement that it will be going ahead with plans to build five new facilities for refugees on its islands has been met with outcry from locals and regional bodies that vow to take legal action to halt the move.

The chasm opening up between the Greek government and local municipalities on islands in the northeastern Aegean continues to widen over state plans to build new "closed" facilities for refugees in the region. 

The New Democracy-led government stunned the country on Monday when it announced via a legislative act that it would be going ahead forcibly with plans to build five new facilities on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros starting in March.
The move will be in spite of vehement opposition from both the local authorities on those islands as well as a powerful movement against them by local communities. 

The northern Aegean regional council then voted to take legal action against the government to expropriate the land and properties it intends to use for the creation of detention centers for asylum seekers. The council has also announced that it has suspended all cooperation with the government until it repeals the legislative act that will enforce the measures to build the new facilities. 

Broken promises 

Kostas Moutzouris, the governor of the northern Aegean region, told the ANT1 TV channel's morning news program, that the islanders' reactions are due to the fact that "the government has unilaterally, and without any dialogue, announced a surprise move with this legislative act." 

Moutzouris added that the ''government has not done a single thing of what they promised. In our meetings 15 days ago with Minister of Immigration Notis Mitarakis there was no mention of creating an order for these detention centers." 

Government vows not to back down 

Meanwhile, in response to the reactions from the northern Aegean regional governor and those of the local communities on the islands, ND government spokesman Stelios Petsas stated that "the government is not going to back down" but said "there is scope for friendly cooperation." Petsas added that the ''areas in which these closed structures will be created are relatively remote, and are of no commercial value and are rather obsolete." 

Petsas was also quick to insist that the government is by no means "confiscating these areas of land" and said they ''are intending to use these areas only for a period of three years, for which the Greek state will pay rent. At some point, we had to make some decisions. And the time for decisions has now come. It is not a period of trying to find solutions, but of applying them." 

'If they bring refugees here, they'll freeze' 

In related developments, farmers who have worked the rocky, mountainous land in the proposed site of Aipous on Chios have warned that refugees and migrants will suffer from hypothermia in winter if they are placed in any kind of facilities there. 

One of the few local residents in the area, a farmer interviewed by state television channel ERT, said that "there's nobody living here in the winter. Not even a donkey, never mind a human being; we all have to move further south for the winter due to the harsh weather." 

Majority of arrivals on islands

According to figures released by the Greek branch of the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, some 74,348 refugees and migrants arrived on Greek shores in the calendar year of 2019 and were absorbed into the various reception facilities on the mainland and on the North East Aegean islands. 

However, the Aegean islands of Chios, Lesvos and Samos are handling most of the arrivals: According to the Northern Aegean General Police Directorate, approximately 46,000 people arrived on the islands of the northern Aegean in 2019, meaning that the region is handling 62% of the total arrivals.


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