From file: Lesbos has been the site of numerous protests related to migration, including this one in January 2020  | Photo: REUTERS/Elias Marcou
From file: Lesbos has been the site of numerous protests related to migration, including this one in January 2020 | Photo: REUTERS/Elias Marcou

Greek police have detained at least four people after a protest against the building of a new migrant camp on the island of Lesbos turned violent.

Greek police say they have detained at least four people and identified another six perpetrators of violence, reports the news agency Associated Press, AP.

In a statement, Greek police said that they had charged four of the suspects with "attempted grievous bodily harm, arson and property destruction." They said they had identified "another six people who allegedly participated in the violence," reported AP.

The arrests happened on Tuesday, February 8, after a peaceful march to protest the building of a new migrant camp took a violent turn. According to Greek police, a small group of protesters set fire to earth-moving machinery being used to build the camp.

New camp due to be ready in September

The building site is situated in Plati, in the north of Lesbos, about 30 kilometers from the capital Mytilene. The camp was due to be completed in September, reports AP, and is meant to hold up to 3,000 migrants and asylum seekers.

A budget of €87.5million has been set aside for the project.

Lesbos is one of the Greek islands that has taken the greatest number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, partly due to its location not too far off the Turkish coast. It had one of the biggest camps in Greece at the Moria site, where an official camp spilled out into acres of makeshift tents and dwellings.

That camp was destroyed by fire in September 2020 and many of the camp’s inhabitants were first moved across the island to another temporary camp and then gradually on to the Greek mainland.

Migrants and asylum seekers in Greece

According to figures published in December by the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum, just 10% of all migrants and asylum seekers remained on the islands by December 2021. The total number of migrants and asylum seekers at that point in Greece was 32,647.

Just a few hundred migrants have arrived on Lesbos so far this year, according to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR’s latest data, published on February 6. Those migrants still on the islands number about 3,500.

The greatest proportion of those qualifying for international protection in Greece in December 2021 came from Afghanistan, closely followed by those from Pakistan and Syria. Nationals from Bangladesh accounted for 10% of those qualifying for international protection and those from Turkey, 7%.

Five new camps

Although the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Greece was significantly down in 2021 compared with previous years, the EU is funding the building of five new camps on the Greek islands closest to the Turkish coast.

The camps have been criticized by human rights groups as they are intended to restrict the freedom of movement of those inside the camps. According to Euronews, local authorities on Lesbos are "backing the protests and have threatened to challenge the government in court to halt the project."

Locals have also opposed the building of other camps across Greece. On January 23, Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reported that the municipal council in Orestiada in northeastern Greece was "convening to discuss controversial plans by the government to expand a migrant reception and identification center on the outskirts of the border village of Fylakio."

Locals against the camps

Locals have "staged numerous protest rallies near the site to prevent construction crews from working on the facility," Ekathimerini reported. In mid-January, riot police reportedly used tear gas against "a few dozen protesters [who] started throwing rocks."

In this case too, "local community leaders and a metropolitan bishop," also spoke up against the building of the camp.

Many residents also oppose the camp on Chios. As Greece celebrated Orthodox Christmas on January 6, Ekathimerini reported that "several hundred residents gathered at [Chios] port to prevent machinery that will be used by the construction contractor (GEK Terna) from being unloaded from a ferry."

On January 7, Greece’s Migration Minister, Notis Mitarakis, told the islanders in a press conference that the structure was meant to protect them. Some protesters are against the closed camps, while others worry that hosting more permanent migrant populations on their islands will continue to damage tourism, on which Greece largely depends.


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