Pressure Builds On New Democracy Over Refugees, Migrants

File - Migrants stand next to tents outside the Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Aggelos Barai)

ATHENS – After Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his government wasn’t fully prepared for a rekindling of a refugee and migrant crisis that saw another near 50,000 arrive after he was elected in July 7, 2019 snap elections, protests are building against New Democracy’s plans to close 10 detention centers, set up new ones and over delays in using European Union aid.

Violence is also soaring at the centers and camps on Greek islands holding some 50,000 refugees and migrants where there have been clashes between ethic groups, leaving several dead recently, and as riot police have to be called in to quell trouble.

A 17-year-old Afghan girl was hospitalized in serious condition after being stabbed by a 20-year-old fellow Afghan at Lesbos’ notorious Moria camp that is holding nearly 20,000 people in a spot built to accommodate one-fifth of that. The attacker was arrested.

New Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakis was heckled by locals during visits to Lesbos and the island of Samos as patience is wearing thin over the government’s handling of the crisis, with island officials and residents wanting mass transfers to the mainland.

During his trip, Mitarakis stressed that reducing immigration flows is a top priority of the government but ideas how to do that weren’t reported how that would be done as only about 2,000 have been sent back to Turkey, where they had first gone fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan.

The EU had closed its borders to them and a 2016 swap deal with Turkey that didn’t work has essentially been suspended, with no way to force Turkey to take back more as that country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to send millions more.

A survey by the diaNEOsis nonprofit think tank shows that most Greeks believe migrants and refugees have a negative impact on the country as compassion fatigue has set in after Greeks had rallied around the newcomers and praised for saving lives of those whose rubber dinghies and overcrowded rickety boats capsized in the Aegean en route to Greek islands.

The survey found that 85.2 percent of respondents said that the number of immigrants in Greece is “very or too high.” Just 12.1 percent said that the number is “normal,” said Kathimerini of the poll’s findings.

Some 79 percent disagreed with the statement that migrants are a solution to the country’s demographic problem while 56 percent said they believe that migrants have a negative impact on the economy, while 58 percent said that their presence is a “threat to our national identity.”

Only 30 percent said migrants and refugees had enhanced Greece’s culture with diversity and as some residents on islands and the mainland have tried to forcibly stop resettlement, with the survey finding 53 percent said they believe that migrants are responsible for soaring crime rates while 44 percent said that Greeks and non-Greeks were just as likely to engage in criminal behavior.