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Greek Island Officials Taking Refugee Protests to Athens

December 4, 2017

ATHENS – Angry that their complaints they’ve been left to deal with a crushing refugee crisis have fallen on deaf ears, officials of Greek islands said they’ll protest in the capital city outside the Immigration Ministry on Dec. 5.

Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas, criticized even within the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA party for his lagging response to a more than two-year-long crisis that has seen more than 64,000 refugees and migrants in Greece – including 15,486 on islands near Turkey, which let human traffickers send them there, has refused to move any to the mainland.

He said that would break terms of a suspended European Union swap deal with Turkey  leaving Greece to deal with the refugees and migrants after other countries closed their borders to them.

Island officials from Samos, Lesbos, and Chios, where detention centers and camps are bracing for winter conditions, will join other protests in the demonstration to complain about overcrowded conditions and growing violence as human rights group join in the chorus of criticism.

The rally is being organized by the municipalities of the three islands and aims to publicize the plight of asylum seekers who have been trapped there for more than a year and after repeated pleas to Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras – who said he’s “proud” of conditions for the refugees and migrants – have been ignored.

“We have decided to protest and to demand again the immediate decongestion of our islands, so that the government reacts to the problem,”  a joint statement by the municipalities read.

Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos is in contact with islander associations in Athens to get their support, said Kathimerini. The detention centers and camps are swamped and more have been arriving with some residents living in tents, exposed to the weather and without sufficient hygiene facilities, they said.

The government is working to put up prefabricated huts in some places but local officials want to stop that, demanding the refugees be moved. Chios officials have filed a suit to block new facilities.

Some 500 were transferred to the mainland but 50 more arrived the same day and Mouzalas said no mass movements are planned.

Authorities on Lesbos held 25 people for taking over a central square in the capital of Mytilene late on Dec. 3, all of them north African migrants who want asylum and transfer to the mainland.

Nine were later released because they were minors, while 16 were expected to appear before a local court, media reports said. That came as a group of Afghan asylum-seekers continued to occupy the offices of ruling SYRIZA party in Mytilene for a tenth day on Dec. 4, also demanding transfers off the island.

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