Concerns have peaked over tensions on the Aegean islands following clashes between residents of Lesvos and migrants in Mytilene port which led to several injuries.
Riot police were forced to intervene early Monday morning after dozens of local residents started protesting the presence of migrants in the main square of Mytilene. The migrants, who had been camping in the square since last Tuesday demanding to be allowed to leave the island, were put onto buses and taken back to overcrowded state facilities.
According to local reports, the protesters threw flares, firecrackers and stones at the migrants who surrounded women and children to protect them.
Some protesters chanted “Burn them alive,” according to reports which suggested that members of far-right groups were involved. Police detained 122 people – all but two of whom were Afghan migrants – while 28 people were transferred to the hospital for first-aid treatment.
Political parties issued statements blaming the attack on far-right groups.
The mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, did not rule out the presence of extremists on the island but pointed to broader frustration among locals. “Society is reacting as a whole,” said Galinos.
More than 15,500 migrants are living in cramped conditions in state-run centers on the eastern Aegean islands, which have seen an uptick in arrivals in recent weeks.
According to Migration Ministry sources, there have been virtually no arrivals in the past couple of days, a fact that some attribute to a letter sent by Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas to Turkish authorities at the end of last week asking them to honor a deal Ankara signed with the EU in 2016 to curb human smuggling across the Aegean.
In a related development, meanwhile, the new head of the Greek Asylum Service, Markos Karavias, signed an agreement effectively restricting migrants arriving on the Aegean islands from traveling on to the mainland.
A Council of State ruling last week overturned previous asylum service restrictions on migrants leaving the islands. The government’s proposed changes to asylum laws – aimed at speeding up the slow pace at which applications are processed – are to be discussed in Parliament on Tuesday.