The mayor of the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, which on Sunday night experienced some of the worst violence it has seen since the start of the refugee crisis in 2015, put the onus for the events that unfolded in downtown Mytilini squarely on the leftist-left government.
“We became witness to tragedy in what was one of the toughest nights Lesvos has been through in the past few years,” Mayor Spyros Galinos, whose island is on the front line of the immigration crisis, said on Monday afternoon in a letter addressed to the ministers for Migration Policy and Citizens’ Protection Dimitris Vitsas and Nikos Toskas.
At least 10 people, mostly migrants, were injured when a large group of far-right extremists attacked a sit-in protest by asylum-seekers on the island’s main Sapphous Square with rocks, flares and squibs on Sunday evening.
The violence spread out into the surrounding streets as the hooligans clashed with police and leftwing activists and lasted several hours until a dawn operation to evacuate the square and return the migrants to the Moria processing center under tight security.
The migrants had been squatting on the square since last week in protest at being kept at the Moria registration camp, where over-crowding has led to squalid conditions and massive delays in the processing of asylum applications, when they came under attack.
The protest started after a high court ruled that refugees and migrants arriving on Greek islands from Turkey could travel to the Greek mainland while their asylum applications were being processed. The ruling does not have retroactive effect, meaning that asylum-seekers already there will not be allowed to leave.
“Despite repeated requests from every level, but also desperate cries for help over the Sapphous Square protest, including amid fears of a reaction stemming from the local community’s fear, the government’s persistent lack of action resulted in yesterday’s events,” Galinos said.
“Lack of action and poor management has resulted in nearly 10,000 asylum seekers being trapped in miserable conditions around a town of 27,000 residents and has created intense fear in the local community; a community that has lost its sense of security and after last night’s events its cohesion too,” said the mayor, who has been among the more supportive voices on the Aegean islands for the migrants’ plight since the start of the crisis in early 2015.
“The responsibility for what happened lies exclusively with the government and the way it has for months handled the situation on the islands and Lesvos in particular,” Galinos said.