Asylum law seen behind Lesvos tension

Asylum law seen behind Lesvos tension

Migrants stranded on Lesvos protested against the dreadful conditions at the Moria reception center and the slow processing of asylum requests for a second day Tuesday as the government turned down a request for a state of emergency to be declared on the eastern Aegean island.

A group of about 250 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan residents of Moria, rallied outside the Municipal Theater in the island’s capital Mytilene demanding “freedom” and shouting, “Lesvos people, we are sorry.” The police intervened to prevent protesters from blocking traffic. One woman was injured in a stampede as demonstrators fled the scene to avoid possible arrest. 

Officials attributed the tension to the tougher asylum regulations introduced by the conservative government. 

“They see that the legislation has become stricter and that the rate of rejected claims has increased, and they fear they will be returned to Turkey,” said the director of the Asylum Service on Lesvos, Marios Kaleas.

On Monday riot police clashed with about 2,000 Afghan asylum seekers who tried to march to Mytilene. Reacting to the incident, residents of the village of Moria Tuesday barged into the Mytilene offices of the General Secretariat for Aegean and Island Policy demanding the closure of Moria, intensified sea patrols, and stricter monitoring of NGOs.

On Tuesday, the Migration and Asylum Ministry submitted an amendment to Parliament requiring all NGOs to submit a record of members and employees.

Despite the soaring tension, the government Tuesday rejected a call by Northern Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris to declare a state of emergency on Lesvos. 

“I’m not optimistic. The numbers don’t add up,” Moutzouris said. “Given that 21,000-22,000 [asylum seekers] are already stranded here and the rate of incoming [migrants], there’s very little we can expect from a closed facility of 5,000-10,000 people,” he said in reference to government plans to replace existing hotspots with closed pre-departure centers.

Authorities were however optimistic that the rate of daily arrivals is on the wane, adding that between 70 and 80 irregular migrants land on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Kos every day.

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