The camp at Malakasa, north of the Greek capital Athens was the object of protest by local residents on Sunday, May 31 | Photo: Reuters
The camp at Malakasa, north of the Greek capital Athens was the object of protest by local residents on Sunday, May 31 | Photo: Reuters

Scores of local residents protested against a migrant camp north of Athens on Sunday. Five people were taken in for questioning. According to police, six police officers and two protesters were injured during the demonstrations.

"Scores of residents of a village" near Malakasa, north of the Greek capital Athens, staged a protest on Sunday, May 31, reported the news agency AFP. The residents were demonstrating against plans to enlarge a migrant encampment in the area at Malakasa, a former military base.

According to Greek City Times, six police officers were injured and five people were taken in for questioning after residents in the Malakasa area decided to block the Athens-Lamia highway leading to the camp. The police used tear gas to break up the protests.

Greek City Times also said that police reported some of the residents had thrown "rocks and other objects" at the police. The two injured protesters were reportedly taken to a hospital in Athens, wrote the Greek language news site Lefimerida.

Malakasa: 'A health bomb'

The locals, wrote Greek City Times, fear that the Malakasa camp is a "health bomb" because of the potential for a serious outbreak of the novel coronavirus in a camp where more than 1,000 people live in close proximity.

In fact, the camp was already quarantined in early April after an Afghan man tested positive for the virus after suffering symptoms of COVID-19.

In May, InfoMigrants reported that organizations like Refugee Support Aegean (a non-profit legal organization) were worried about the health and sanitary conditions in camps like Malakasa. They told InfoMigrants that the Malakasa camp was among those where health conditions were "not suitable at all," in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Residents protest migrants

The residents have also said that migrants and refugees being housed at the camp "disturb the area" by gathering in local squares and holding barbecues in forested areas.

According to AFP, local mayor Yiorgos Giassimakis told a local weekly Ethnos that the protests had been "peaceful," and that the protesters had been "beaten up." They mayor said that despite the lockdown rules, many of the residents had been "roaming freely," and that last weekend some residents "went up to the mountain and lit fires. We had to run to put them out."

The camp at Malakasa was expanded in March as the Greek authorities stepped up transfers from the overcrowded island camps to the mainland due to the coronavirus pandemic and fears that the virus could spread like wildfire in the island camps.

Malakasa to expand

It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are being housed in the Malakasa center. In April, Deutsche Welle noted that the camp was housing about 1,800 people.

Now the Greek authorities have announced plans to open up a second camp in the area, although this one will impose stricter controls on entry and exit. According to the English language Ekathimerini newspaper, Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said on June 1 that Malakasa will become "the first migrant camp of its kind to tightly monitor entry and exit." Anyone not authorized to be there "will be deported," he told the newspaper.

Malakasa residents have been complaining of a spike in crime in the area which they blame on the migrants housed in the camp. At the moment there is "no system" for monitoring comings and goings in the Malakasa camp which is an "open" facility.

 

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