MYTELENE, Lesvos – Weary of carrying the burden of trying to deal with scores of thousands of refugees and migrants on their islands for nearly five years, residents on Lesbos, Chios and Samos protested and want the New Democracy government to do more to help.
The Regional Governor for the Northern Aegean, Kostas Moutzouris, and the mayors of the three islands were to come to Athens Jan. 23 to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis calling for a swift resolution to the problem, said Kathimerini.
They are also expected to meet with Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis to express worries about growing violence in detention centers and camps that are overcrowded, with battles erupting between ethnic groups and riot police called in to quell trouble.
There are some 50,000 on the islands and an equal number on the mainland, most seeking asylum after the European Union closed its borders to them and continuing to come by the scores of thousands in new surges after New Democracy took power in July, 2019.
The government plans to speed asylum applications as well as deportations to Turkey, where the refugees and migrants had first gone fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan.
The scheme also would replace some centers with those to house migrants ineligible for sanctuary, coming from areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and looking for work and to improve their economic condition but not fearing for their lives.
Only about 2,000 have been sent back to Turkey under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU but the government wants to return another 20,000, the same number it wants to move off islands to the mainland, where there has been resistance against them.
Local authorities and business owners went on strike on Lesbos, Chios and Samos on Jan. 22 in protest of the growing problem, with tax offices and other state services closed and many businesses shut for the day as officials and storeowners joined in.
Island officials want the government ease overcrowding at the camps but object to new centers too, anxious the old camps will remain open and more refugees and migrants will keep being held, with activists charging the conditions are inhumane.
On Lesbos, around 7,000 residents joined a demonstration at the island’s main port, some wielding banners saying “We want our islands back!” Similar rallies were held on the islands of Samos and Chios, where migrant reception facilities are overcrowded.