Hundreds of residents blocked the main port of Igoumenitsa in northwestern Greece on Tuesday to express their frustration at a burgeoning population of undocumented immigrants who have been camping out in the area for months, trying to sneak onto ferries to Italy and getting involved in frequent violent brawls.
The protesters gathered in the early afternoon and stayed until late in the evening, stopping trucks from boarding and disembarking ferries.
Local store owners joined in by closing their shops for the afternoon in protest.
Organizers said that they want the government to intervene as outbreaks of violence between different ethnic groups are frequent despite a recent police crackdown. ?The situation is degenerating and demands an immediate solution,? said Igoumenitsa Mayor Giorgos Katsinos.
Last week, Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis told Parliament that the government had taken action to solve the problem, sending in police to remove many of the migrants who have been staying at makeshift camps in the port similar to those that had sprung up at the western port of Patra.
A police source told Kathimerini that between 600 and 700 migrants remained at the port camps, about half the original number. Locals argue however that police raids provide only a temporary solution to the problem as new migrants are continually arriving to replace the ones that have moved from the area.
Owners of local stores, travel agencies and other businesses that rely on tourism have been pressing local authorities to improve the situation as the high season looms.
A key concern among locals is the violent clashes between rival groups of migrants – usually Afghans against Iraqis – over who should have ?the best position? at the port from which to try and sneak onto ferries bound for Italy.
The brawls often involve knives being drawn and have resulted in several serious injuries in recent months.
The tensions at the port have also fueled racist attacks. One involved an unidentified assailant firing an air gun out of a car, resulting in an Iraqi migrant sustaining injuries to the forehead.