Local authorities on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios – both on the front line of the migrant crisis threatening European cohesion – have reacted strongly to suggestions that more migrant and refugee processing centers are to be built on their territory, as Greece struggles to manage growing numbers of arrivals.
In Lesvos, where the municipal authority and residents have been distinguished for their tolerance and support of refugees and migrants arriving from nearby Turkey, construction work at a disused military base on the island’s north has raised a furor amid rumors that it is being transformed into a so-called hot spot. The island already has one such facility at Moria, which is dangerously above maximum capacity levels, as well as an informal center at Kara Tepe that is also stretched to its limits.
Speaking to the ANA-MPA news agency, military sources on the island would not confirm whether the base was being transformed into a migrant reception center, saying that they were acting on orders from Athens to carry out specific work.
Regional Governor for the Northern Aegean Christiana Kalogirou reacted to rumors of a new camp, saying that she had gotten in touch with Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas earlier in the week, and that such an “issue never arose.” She has also written several letters to central authorities stressing the need for measures to relieve some of the pressure on islands, which are currently hosting an estimated 13,000 migrants in facilities designed to hold just 8,000, from the around 60,000 trapped throughout Greece.
“We have repeatedly written letters underlining with absolute emphasis the need to relieve pressure on the islands and that the limits of the Northern Aegean islands’ capacity to host migrants and refugees have been completely exhausted,” Kalogirou told ANA-MPA.
Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos, who has spearheaded several efforts to improve migrants’ living conditions and placate disgruntled residents, has also written to Mouzalas, as well as to Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, expressing his “categorical opposition to any such effort or even to any intention of the relevant ministries to create a new refugee and migrant reception facility on the island.”
After making these letters public, Galinos said that he considers it “unconscionable” that the local authority should be “informed of these intentions via the reports of ordinary citizens and rumors, instead of there being an official briefing and consultation about an issue that is so important to Lesvos and its citizens.”
Galinos called for an emergency meeting to be held between all the relevant authorities in order to discuss the situation on the island.
“I have repeatedly stressed in previous letters the dangerously explosive climate, which dictates the immediate decongestion of the island and underscores our inability to shoulder any more responsibility related to the management of the migrant crisis,” Galinos told ANA-MPA.
Underscoring his concerns, riot police had to intervene on Thursday night when a brawl broke out between dozens of Senegalese and Algerian migrants at Moria. This was just one more in a string of rows that have been sparked by cramped living conditions and long delays in processing in Lesvos, Chios, Kos and other host islands.
Meanwhile, residents of Moria have organized a protest rally on Monday to call for measures to decongest the camp there. The rally will also be attended by members of the local hoteliers’ association, which has warned of the negative effect on tourism of the operation of the two camps.
On Friday, Mouzalas also denied rumors that three new hot spots are being planned on the island of Chios, following complaints from local authorities there.
Speaking in Parliament, Mouzalas said that only one facility is in the works and is intended to take in residents currently staying at a camp set up in a defunct factory that is also stretched beyond its capacity, as well as from other informal camps on the island. He said funds of 3.7 million euros have been set aside for the project.