Fresh tension broke out in the capital of Lesvos on Wednesday after a small group of Afghan asylum seekers attempted to set up camp on one of the island’s public squares in demand that they be transferred to the Greek mainland.
Shopkeepers on Mytilini’s Sapphous Square, who had prompted the evacuation of the same Afghan protesters on Tuesday after they had been camped on the square for around 20 days, called the police and asked that they be removed again. The shopkeepers were shortly after joined by local supporters of far-right supporters who started hurling insults at the migrants, shoving reporters covering the story and nearly coming to blows with pro-migrant activists.
Riot police arrived at the scene before the situation could escalate further and, with the help of a prosecutor and Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos, convinced the migrants to be escorted to the PIKPA camp, where their applications will apparently be re-examined to determine whether they merit transportation to the mainland. They reportedly refused to be transferred back to the official processing and reception center at Moria, where they had already spent months in squalid conditions, without any progress being made on their asylum requests.
Local media suggested that the tension at the square was orchestrated by far-right elements who were seen driving around Mytilini on Wednesday calling on bullhorns for supporters to block any attempt by the Afghans to set up camp at the square again. The shopkeepers who initially protested the tents stressed that they were in no way associated to that campaign.
Tensions have been simmering on Lesvos and other islands of the eastern Aegean for months, after migrant arrivals from neighboring Turkey started picking up pace over the summer and delays continue at overcrowded processing centers, putting a tremendous strain on resources at the camps but also on local communities.