Tensions peak on islands as migrants riot, locals protest

Tensions peak on islands as migrants riot, locals protest

Fears are mounting that the situation at migrant reception centers on the Aegean islands could spiral out of control as riots and altercations with local residents are increasing, with the recent bad weather adding to the misery of thousands of desperate people. 

Following the recent heavy rainfall, hundreds of migrants living in tents set up on the fringes of overcrowded camps are forced to wade through mud every day. 

Aid groups warn that conditions will worsen with the onset of winter and have urged the government to hasten its preparations for the first cold snap of the year, eager to prevent a replay of last January when three migrants died of hypothermia within a week.  

The situation inside the camps is not much better. With most facilities operating at more than double their capacity, tensions often bubble to the surface and clashes break out between groups of migrants, usually from different ethnic groups. 

The latest such clash erupted in the Moria camp on Lesvos in the early hours of Monday.

The trouble started at around midnight when an argument between migrants escalated into a brawl and then into a general riot, resulting in the offices of the United Nations refugee agency and of another aid group on the site being vandalized.

The unrest abated following the intervention of riot police and a local prosecutor at around 4 a.m. 

Lesvos, which bore the brunt of the huge migrant influx in late 2015 and early 2016 and remains a popular option for people smugglers, is still struggling.

Local authorities and businesses closed on Monday, joining a general strike aimed at drawing attention to their key demand: the immediate transfer of migrants to facilities on the Greek mainland.

Currently Lesvos is hosting some 8,500 migrants in cramped facilities. As it is a favored destination for smugglers, authorities want to build more camps there. But local authorities and residents have had enough. 

During Monday’s strike, islanders marched through the main port, calling for migrants to be moved to mainland Greece.

“Lesvos is not an open prison, nor will we allow anyone to view it as such,” Mayor Spyros Galinos said, noting that the rising migrant population has “fueled insecurity among citizens.”

But there are tensions too on other islands, including Chios and Samos, where migrants, authorities and residents are fed up.

On Monday seven residents of a migrant camp on Chios were being questioned by police in connection with an altercation with a pair of local farmers.

The migrants allegedly tried to steal vegetables from a greenhouse near the camp when they were challenged by the farmers, a 75-year-old man and his son.

An argument broke out but police intervened before it came to blows. Officers confiscated five plastic bags of vegetables, as well as a hunting rifle.

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