Greek islanders march against migrant facility
Hundreds of people on the Greek island of Kos on Wednesday protested against plans to build a migrant facility there, voicing fears about its possible impact on tourism.
"No to the hotspot on our island," read the banner leading the demonstration by traders and tourism business owners, referring to the migrant registration and short-stay facilities the European Union wants built.
With Greece under increasing EU pressure to improve border controls, the island of 30,000 has taken a stand against hosting migrants, holding up the process.
Three locals were hurt last week in a scuffle with riot police near the area chosen to build the migrant centre, or hotspot, including a journalist covering the protest, who was later detained.
"We are against the hotspot," shouted Kos Mayor Yiorgos Kyritsis, who accuses the government of "blackmailing" islanders, as the demonstrators gathered outside the town hall.
While the nearby islands of Lesvos, Leros, Samos and Chios have grudgingly accepted the challenge, Kos leaders have been opposed from the start, arguing that the long-term presence of migrants will undermine the tourism industry which is the island's main source of income.
"In 2015 tourism fell five percent and there is a study showing a 30-percent fall in reservations this year," Kos deputy mayor David Gerasklis told AFP at Wednesday's demonstration.
Since last year, the five Aegean islands have become the principal gateway to Europe for over 800,000 people attempting the journey from neighbouring Turkey to escape war and poverty.
Most of them were Syrians, followed by Iraqis, Afghans and other nationalities – of whom Kos has received a fraction with the majority heading to larger Lesvos.
The hotspots in Greece and Italy are meant to screen bona fide war refugees – which other EU states are prepared to accept – from economic migrants which are to be repatriated.
They are also designed to weed out potential extremists, such as the two Islamic State jihadists who sneaked into Greece in October posing as Syrian refugees, and carried out deadly suicide attacks in Paris a month later.
Under European pressure to improve migrant controls at Greece's maritime borders with Turkey, the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pledged to complete hotspots on Kos and the other four islands by mid-February.
Kos is among Greece's top ten travel destinations with nearly 900,000 flight arrivals between January and September 2015.
Government officials say the protests are being motivated by a minority on the island backed by far-right hardliners.