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Politics

Despite Protests, Greek Government Plows Ahead with Migrant Detention Centers

February 26, 2020

ATHENS – Even blockades being set up by residents of Greek islands won’t keep the New Democracy government from forging ahead with plans to build new migrant detention centers, and seize land to build and operate them.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas told Open TV that, “We are asking the local communities to understand that these closed facilities will benefit the country and their communities,” referring to Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros.

Officials and residents on the island are weary of refugee and migrant camps that are holding some 42,000 people and angry over plans to take properties for new centers aimed at vetting those who aren’t eligible for sanctuary.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsoakis said his plan to deal with the crisis, which got worse when Turkey let human traffickers send nearly another 50,000 after the Conservatives won July 7, 2019 snap elections, was to transfer 20,000 to mainland camps and deport 20,000.

The refugees and migrants had gone to the islands from Turkey, where they came fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war, making them likely to get asylum, but economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere aren’t.

Petsas spoke a few hours after protesters on Lesbos and Chios set up roadblocks to prevent construction machinery and crews from reaching plots where the centers will be built.

Islanders fear new facilities will only increase the number of migrants and refugees after the government failed to deliver on a pledge to ease overcrowding over the winter months.

“We are guarding the (appropriated) area, and if they start building, everyone here and from the surrounding villages will join the protest — because we don’t want this,” Stephanos Apostolou, a protest organizer and municipal council member from the village of Mandamos on Lesbos, told The Associated Press.

There were also clashes with riot police sent to the islands to protect the projects, similar to police frequently being called in to quell trouble in the camps, especially the notorious Mora center on Lesbos which is holding 18,000 people in a space designed for 3,000.

The refugees and migrants are growing increasingly frustrated over delays in asylum applications that can take two years or more to process and with reports almost all are being rejected, adding to the tension.

“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 said.

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,” which has taken back only about 2,000 in four years.

A 2016 swap deal with the European Union has essentially been suspended and there was no word on whether there have been any deportations since New Democracy took over, with no way to force Turkey to accept them.

General strike on northern Aegean islands on Wednesday

The North Aegean Region and its municipalities have called for a general strike on Wednesday.

The decision was announced by North Aegean regional governor Kostas Moutzouris at a meeting held in Mytilene, which also decided the establishment of a Coordination Body for addressing the situation on the islands.

The same announcement denounced ‘the barbarous and extremely aggresive government action to send riot police to the islands of Lesvos and Chios to impose their violent transformation into new prisons, in defiance to the will and dignity of the islanders.” The announcement also condemned the “attacks against defenceless civilians and the blocking of the roads”.

The region and the municipalities invited all the residents of Lesvos to gather in Sappho Square on Tuesday afternoon at 16:00 and afterwards to move towards the Karavas area.

“It is a day of shame for all and mostly for those who ordered these actions. It is a shame for the islanders to be beaten and to suffer from tear gas. Not even the junta did these things,” Moutzouris said.

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