Clashes on Greek islands in protest against migrant camp

by Reuters
Tuesday, 25 February 2020 11:33 GMT

* Greek islanders protest new migrant camps

* Authorities will press ahead, says government

* (Adds government spokesman comment, details)

ATHENS, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Clashes broke out on two Greek islands early on Tuesday between police and residents protesting the construction of migrant detention centres as the government vowed to press ahead with the project.

Incidents were reported on Lesbos and Chios, outlying Greek islands on the front line of a migratory flow of refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities announced this month they would expedite the creation of centres on five Greek islands, angering locals who say they are bearing the primary burden of the refugee crisis.

Witnesses said about 500 people attempted to block the unloading of heavy machinery overnight to break ground at a construction site on Lesbos.

Clashes on the streets followed, with residents attempting to block access to the construction site, and police used teargas. Similar tensions were reported on Chios.

Greece's conservative government has taken a markedly tougher stance towards migration compared to the previous leftist government, issuing a tender for the construction of a floating fence to deter asylum seekers arriving by sea and introducing faster processing procedures that could increase deportations.

Locals are worried that construction of the centres, which would replace camps with open access, will leave the islands permanently overcrowded. Authorities say closed centres will offer greater public safety and limit potential health risks.

That concern was particularly pertinent because of the spread of coronavirus, said Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas.

"It is clearly evident that matters such as the coronavirus can be dealt with swiftly and effectively in a closed facility and not an anarchic, open facility which is a health time bomb," Petsas said.

The Moria camp on Lesbos accommodates more than 18,000 people in conditions aid organisations say are appalling.

As of midday on Tuesday, Greece had no confirmed cases of coronavirus.

In addition to Lesbos and Chios, Greek authorities plan to construct closed detention facilities on Samos, Kos and Leros islands. The islands are close to Turkey, from where thousands of asylum seekers head to Europe each year.

Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016 before a deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow.

There has, however, been a resurgence in arrivals since September 2019. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Ed Osmond)

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