Migrant center on Lesvos shut down

As an international conference on migration opened near Athens yesterday, the government said that an overcrowded and much-criticized reception center for illegal immigrants on Lesvos would be replaced by a military unit on the eastern Aegean island. According to sources, the military unit to start operating on Lesvos will be one of several that Deputy Citizens' Protection Minister Spyros Vougias and Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos are to agree on. Addressing the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which concludes today in the coastal suburb of Vouliagmeni, Vougias said that the rights of migrants would be respected, heralding the creation of Muslim cemeteries and prayer sites. He added that the ministry would set up committees of experts to examine migrants' claims for asylum. As for some 900 migrants released from the center on Lesvos, some were reportedly given ferry tickets to Piraeus while others are expected to be transferred to reception centers on other islands, many of which are also overcrowded. The UN refugee agency UNHCR, one of several nongovernmental organizations that had lobbied for the center's closure, welcomed the decision but said that new centers had to be built to accommodate a surging influx of immigrants that continue to enter Greece from Turkey. In a related development in the central Athens district of Aghios Panteleimonas yesterday, riot police clashed with local residents and suspected members of far-right organizations who had gathered to protest against a scheduled rally in the area by members of anti-racist and human rights groups. There were no reports of any injuries in the area which has seen a spike in tensions over the past few months as residents protested the burgeoning presence of destitute illegal immigrants in their neighborhood.