MYTELENE, Lesvos – Overwhelmed residents of the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos on Wednesday held public protests against what they said is the negative impact of the migration crisis on their communities and on North Aegean islands at large, home to the most congested reception and identification facilities (“hotspots”).
At the Lesvos protest, locals chanted “We want our islands back, we want our lives back,” while North Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris explained that what disturbed residents most is how “our islands have become detention hubs of people from more than 80 countries.” Citing a total of 50,000 migrants populating the islands while waiting to be processed, he added that “this situation reflects a pact of silence among European states, including our government.”
The Moria camp on the island and adjacent makeshift camps currently accommodate 21,441 people, against the main facility’s 3,000 capacity maximum.
In a written statement, Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi called the islanders’ protests “justified” and pointed out that “today the Greek islanders are bearing the brunt of the migration crisis, and solidarity at European and national level is necessary.”
Mitarachi reiterated that the ministry’s main objective is to reduce migration flows and that this will be achieved “through increased border security, by the speeding up of asylum application procedures, by increased returns of migrants and with enclosed pre-departure centers.”
“We are accelerating the returns of those who are not entitled to international protection,” continued Mitarachi, as well as “the transfer of asylum seekers or vulnerable groups to the mainland.”
The transfer of asylum seekers to Greece’s mainland was also the main premise of the Samos protest, where some 7,519 migrants reside.
Eastern Samos Mayor Giorgos Stantzos said that European border patrol agency Frontex should monitor the country’s eastern maritime borders on the Turkish coastline, and said they will not stand for turning the island into a large migration camp.
Transferring more migrants to facilities in mainland Greece was also a concern aired by people at Chios island, where some 6,007 asylum seekers now reside.
Chios Mayor Stamatis Karmantzis said that migrants should not be staying indefinitely, but that a small facility there should only identify and process asylum seekers, then see them moved on to the rest of Greece almost immediately.
Ministry officials also said they will decisively speed up the processing of some 87,000 outstanding asylum applications and some 38,000 appeals, while the processing and finalisation of applications coming from islands will not exceed 28 days.
Meanwhile, the North Aegean regional governor with the mayors of the three islands will on Thursday deliver their resolution to Maximos Mansion, to the House of Parliament and to the Ministry of Migration.
Island mobilizations are scheduled to continue on Thursday, with the closure of municipal offices and strikes, as declared by many regional trade unions such as the Mytilini Bar Association, whose members will abstain from their duties.