The government is determined to move ahead with its plan to build new holding facilities for migrants and refugees as part of a plan to accelerate asylum procedures and deportations on the five islands hosting camps, its spokesman said on Tuesday, amid reactions to the scheme from island residents.
“We are asking the local communities to understand that these closed facilities will benefit the country and their communities,” Stelios Petsas told Open TV on Tuesday morning, appealing to locals on the islands of Levos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros, who are opposed to the plan.
His comments came a few hours after protesters on Lesvos and Chios set up roadblocks to prevent construction machinery and crews to reach the plots where the controversial centers will be built and clashed with riot police dispatched to the islands to protect the projects.
“There’s a trust deficit right now that has been cultivated over previous years, and this needs to be restored. We will build these closed centers but also close the existing open ones. That is the government’s promise,” Petsas added, seeking to placate locals who are angry at the slow pace of transfers of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped on the islands to the mainland.
The new camps, he added, “will make it much easier to speed up the asylum process so that those who are entitled to asylum can be transferred west and those who are not can be returned to Turkey.”
Tapping into recent fears over the new coronavirus outbreak in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean, Petsas said that the camps will also help safeguard local communities more effectively than the existing facilities, which he described as “public health bombs.”