WE WANT OUR ISLANDS BACK SAY GREEKS
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Thousands of Greek campaigners have demanded asylum seekers be removed from their islands amid overcrowding and violence at the migrant camps. The islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios staged a general strike, shutting down shops and public services and rallying in central squares, with protesters shouting: ‘We want our islands back, we want our lives back.’
The largest camp of Moria on Lesbos Island, with a capacity for 2,840, hosts more than 19,000 economic migrants. 72-year-old Lesbos pensioner Efstratios Peppas said, ‘you can’t walk alone outside after dark, people get stabbed.’
The overcrowding is equally severe on other islands, and rights groups and medical charities have repeatedly criticised the living conditions at the camps.
The government announced plans in November to build larger camps on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, which currently host a total of nearly 42,000 migrants and where outbreaks of violence are frequent.
The day of protest was organised by regional governors and mayors who plan to travel to Athens on Thursday to present their demands to the government.
Nearly 75,000 people crossed illegally to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2019, according to the U.N. refugee agency, an increase of nearly 50% from the previous year.
Two young migrants have been fatally stabbed in brawls at the Moria camp this month. An 18-year-old Afghan girl was also seriously injured in a knife attack and remains in hospital. And three asylum-seekers in Greek custody have committed suicide in recent weeks.
‘We demand the immediate shutdown of Moria,’ read a banner carried in the Lesbos demonstration.
The new camp plans have been strongly opposed by local officials, who want smaller facilities after hosting thousands of asylum seekers for the past five years.
‘What we want is for people to be transferred to the mainland in greater numbers, for the camp to be phased out and closed, and for any new facility to be located far away from populated areas,’ Yiannis Mastroyiannis, the leader of Moria’s municipal council, told protesters at the main square on Lesbos. ‘The people in this area have suffered enough.’
Greece last year again became the main entry into Europe for migrants and refugees, many fleeing war or poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Syria. The UN refugee agency in 2019 recorded more than 59,000 arrivals by sea and more than 14,000 via the land border with Turkey. Already more than 3,000 have arrived so far this year.
Only a fraction is allowed passage to the Greek mainland while the rest spend months in the camps, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. Like this story? Share it with a friend.
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