Despite vehement local opposition, the government is planning to create new reception facilities for migrants and refugees on Lesvos after rioting at the severely overcrowded Moria camp on Friday prompted hundreds of Kurdish migrants to abandon the premises.
It is not the first time that riots have shaken the Moria camp, where, until last week, some 7,300 people were residing in a facility designed to host a maximum of 3,000.
The upheaval broke out on Friday, according to local sources, after migrants from Arab countries allegedly criticized Kurdish residents, accusing them of not observing religious customs.
The argument escalated into a brawl and resulted in more than 800 migrants, mostly Kurds, leaving the Moria camp. Of those, around 400 had on Tuesday set up tents around the fringes of another state-run facility, the Pikpa camp, while scores more had taken refuge at another camp near the seaside village of Skala Sykamia.
Hundreds more are camping in local squares and parks, reluctant to return to state-run camps which they worry are unsafe.
Local authorities have complained that the new arrivals at Skala Sykamia have strained tensions with local residents and businesses which are preparing for the peak tourist season following several years of losses due to the refugee crisis.
Despite the local opposition, however, government officials insist that a solution must be found as migrants continue to reach the eastern Aegean islands from neighboring Turkey while relocations to the Greek mainland are moving slowly.
In a letter to Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas, Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos described the government’s plans to set up new reception facilities as a unilateral action that is in direct contravention of the will of the local community.
Galinos has pressed for the decongestion of camps on the island which was at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis in late 2015 and 2016.
A Migration Ministry delegation was on the island on Tuesday to coordinate with local authorities on how to tackle the problem.
In talks in Athens on Tuesday with the executive director of the European Union’s border monitoring agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, Vitsas underlined the importance of a 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey for migrant returns being enforced.