EDESSA, Greece — Protesting locals stopped asylum-seekers relocated from congested Aegean island camps from reaching new accommodation in northern Greece and set fire to a hotel where they were supposed to be housed, Greek authorities said Wednesday.
Police said about 150 protesters prevented buses carrying 57 people brought to the mainland from the eastern island of Lesbos from reaching a rented hotel at a village in the northern region of Pella, and set fire to a room on the hotel’s ground floor.
No injuries or arrests were reported. Greece's COVID-19 lockdown only allows public gatherings of up to 10 people, who must observe social distancing.
The buses were rerouted to another village in the Pella region, where protesters had sent up roadblocks to prevent them being housed in a local hotel. The group was eventually driven to the northern city of Thessaloniki, where they were put up in a local hotel.
The mayor of Edessa Dimitris Giannou condemned the vandalism stating that they have nothing to do with the migration issue. Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, he said that police reassured him that there were no migrants inside the hotel adding that "such actions do not express the majority of the people in the region."
Smaller protests also occurred at a hotel in the northern region of Kilkis, where 250 asylum-seekers from Lesbos were being taken to. Those protests were short-lived, however, and the migrants were housed in the facility which already accommodates asylum-seekers, authorities said.
Greece’s government has vowed to ease massive overcrowding in refugee camps on the eastern islands, where tens of thousands of migrants and refugees live, and has begun moving some to the mainland.
Due to lockdown measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, new arrivals on the islands from the nearby Turkish coast are not allowed into the camps. So far no coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the island camps, although two refugee camps on the mainland were put under quarantine due to local outbreaks.