MYTILENE, Greece – Police on the eastern Greek island of Lesbos on Monday arrested 120 asylum-seekers for illegal camping, following overnight violence by local residents trying to end their five-day sit-in protest in the heart of the island capital.
The clashes in Mytilene left at least 10 people hospitalized. State television, quoting hospital officials, said most of the injured were migrants and none were seriously hurt.
The mayor of the Aegean island of Lesbos, overrun with refugees and migrants being held in a detention center, said attacks on them by far-right extremists happened because the Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition has ignored pleas to help.
A night of flaring violence started when the extremists went after the refugees and migrants, including women and children, who were camped out in the main square of the island’s capital of Mytilene, tossing rocks, fire bombs and other objects before being dispersed by police and Leftists who came to the air.
Thousands of refugees and migrants have been waiting up to two years for asylum applications to be processed after the European Union closed its borders, shutting them off in Greece where there are more than 64,000 including 15,000 on the islands, mostly on Lesbos, Samos and Chios close to the Turkish boder.
A ruling by Greece’s highest court that new arrivals, with the numbers beginning to pick up with warmer weather making more brave the perilous journey from Turkey, can move about the country and not be kept on the islands.
That has infuriated those being pent up in what human rights groups called often inhumane conditions and as a suspended European Union swap deal with Turkey has seen only a relative handful returned, resulting in more incidents of violence in detention centers and camps.
“We became witness to tragedy in what was one of the toughest nights Lesvos has been through in the past few years,” Mayor Spyros Galinos said in a letter addressed to the ministers for Migration Policy and Citizens’ Protection Dimitris Vitsas and Nikos Toskas, the newspaper Kathimerini reported.
At least 10 people, mostly migrants, were injured when some 200 far-right extremists attacked a sit-in protest by asylum-seekers on the island’s main Sapphous Square with rocks, flares and firecrackers the night of April 22.
It was the worst scene of violence since SYRIZA took over in 2015 and as successive migration ministers have done too little, the island’s mayors have said, even though they had even gone outside the ministry in Athens to complain.
“Despite repeated requests from every level, but also desperate cries for help over the Sapphous Square protest, including amid fears of a reaction stemming from the local community’s fear, the government’s persistent lack of action resulted in yesterday’s events,” Galinos said.
“Lack of action and poor management has resulted in nearly 10,000 asylum seekers being trapped in miserable conditions around a town of 27,000 residents and has created intense fear in the local community; a community that has lost its sense of security and after last night’s events its cohesion too,” he added.
“The responsibility for what happened lies exclusively with the government and the way it has for months handled the situation on the islands and Lesbos in particular,” Galinos said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)