Tensions are rising on the eastern Aegean island of Chios, which is currently favored by human smugglers ferrying migrants over from neighboring Turkey, with an increasing number of brawls at overcrowded state reception centers and local residents’ tolerance wearing thin.
Clashes between migrants of different ethnicities are an almost daily occurrence, residents said following a violent confrontation on Tuesday night between Afghan and Algerian nationals at the Vial reception facility.
That incident started as a fight between two small groups throwing stones at each other and escalated into a full-blown brawl involving around 60 people.
Riot police stationed nearby were eventually obliged to enter the facility and break up the fight.
According to sources at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, migrants have been arriving in greater numbers on Chios as it still lacks a so-called pre-departure camp due to protests by local residents against the creation of new facilities on the island.
As a result, migrants landing on Chios and deemed ineligible for asylum are not being deported to Turkey as foreseen in an agreement signed between Turkey and the European Union in March last year.
Around 200 migrants have arrived on Chios this week, according to government figures, compared to virtually none on other islands in the eastern Aegean. And, according to a top-ranking police official, the problem is unlikely to be resolved until a center is set up.
“The message being sent to those deciding to make the journey is that if you get to Chios they won’t send you back,” he said.
The situation on Lesvos and other islands is said to be better as pre-departure centers have been set up and returns to Turkey are being organized.
Around 800 Syrian refugees are currently on the Aegean islands, awaiting the outcome of their claims for asylum.
The decisions regarding their claims must be preceded by a ruling by the Council of State on whether Turkey is “a safe third country,” in light of the deteriorating security situation following last year’s failed coup.
Two Syrian nationals appealed to the country’s highest administrative court following the rejection of their applications for asylum. The ruling in their case is likely to set a precedent for other Syrian refugees.