THESSALONIKI — Police in northern Greece arrested 25 people Tuesday during a protest at a migrant processing center that damaged converted shipping containers used as living quarters and other facilities but caused no reported injuries.
Authorities said officers intervened to stop several hours of rioting at the center, located near Greece's border with Turkey. People who enter Greece illegally are registered there and temporarily detained until they apply for asylum.
The protest occurred following weeks of delays in processing asylum claims due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center currently houses 250 asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied minors, the Evros Police Department said.
The Greek asylum service’s operations have been scaled back, like many public services, amid restrictions on travel and movement the government set in response to the pandemic.
Greece is struggling to cope with illegal immigration from Turkey, both at the land border and on the Greek islands, that spiked before the country's virus outbreak.
A dispute between Turkey and the European Union led to standoff at the Turkey-Greece land border in late February and early March. Thousands of Europe-bound asylum-seekers flocked to Turkey's side of the border after the Turkish government said it would no longer prevent migrants from trying to cross over to Greece.
Greek border guards, police and members of the military fired tear gas and projectiles as they tried to stop people from forcing their way across the border. Turkish police fired tear gas back into Greece.
Human rights groups have frequently criticized the Greek government for holding migrants under age 18 and traveling without guardians at detention camps.
Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, a European affairs minister, said finding appropriate placements within the European Union for children and teenagers remains a priority.
"As you know, our capacity has been exhausted, so our initiatives are being taken on a European level, and we have already had some success with Luxembourg and Germany,” he said.
The minister spoke as Greece prepared to assume on Friday the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg, France-based organization created after World War II to promote human rights and democratic government.