Migrants fuel tensions at Igoumenitsa

As a burgeoning population of illegal immigrants camping out at the northwestern port of Igoumenitsa with the aim of boarding ferries to Italy continues to grow, authorities there report a spike in violence between different ethnic groups as well as racist attacks against migrants. Meanwhile police and coast guard officers in the western port of Patra, which in recent years has become the favored gateway to Western Europe for undocumented migrants, have intensified a crackdown on the migrant population as tensions with locals are on the rise.

In the last few months, authorities in Igoumenitsa have reported at least 10 incidents of violence ranging from knifings to beatings involving rival groups of migrants and suspected racist attacks. The brawls – usually between Afghan and Iraqi migrants – are attributed by police to a power struggle between the ethnic groups to secure ?the best position? at the port from which to try and sneak onto ferries bound for Italy.

The most recent attacks involved an unidentified assailant firing an air gun out of a car and injuring an Iraqi migrant on the forehead.

The violence and upheaval has fueled concern among regional authorities, which fear that things will only get worse as there is no sign of the migrant influx slowing. Thomas Pitoulis, the deputy regional governor of Thesprotia, said he feared the current tensions ?could lead to a situation that is totally out of control and that has yet to be seen in Igoumenitsa.? The situation with the migrants is described as ?dangerous? by Pitoulis, ?dramatic? by regional police chief Vassilis Miaris and ?explosive? by Igoumenitsa Mayor Giorgos Katsinos.

The mayor told Kathimerini that he had met with local residents and associations and would soon be submitting their proposals to Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis. Katsinos said that locals object to the suggestion that a temporary detention center for immigrants be built in the area, claiming that this ?would create more problems than it solves.?

?It?s a deadlock. Some of these people have been here for months or even a year. They want to leave but they can?t. They are trapped,? he said.