Pitched battles between riot police and Greek islanders opposed to new detention centers aimed at sorting out migrants not eligible for asylum have led the New Democracy government to withdraw the squads that had been sent in to restore order.
Clashes left 62 people injured, with videos showing battle scenes of tear gas being fired at protesters who responded with force, even spilling over into forest areas that caught fire and demonstrators complaining of police tactics.
Protesters hurled stones at police, who responded with tear gas, resulting in the injury of 43 officers and 10 islanders, according to the Hellenic Police (ELAS).
The riot police are being taken out of the islands of Lesbos – where nearly 20,000 refugees and migrants are being contained in a camp human rights groups said is unfit for humans – and from Chios. There are also centers on Samos, Kos and Leros where trouble is rising.
Islanders are furious over government plans for new detention centers, fearing they will become permanent housing, and the seizure of private properties to build them and even stormed a hotel on Chios where police were staying and rousted them, injuring eight.
There are about 44,000 refugees and migrants on the islands, sent there from Turkey which is allowing human traffickers to keep operating during an essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union.
They had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war, fearing for their lives, making them more eligible for asylum. But economic migrants from areas such as sub-Saharan African are not and those would be the targets identified in the new centers.
Speaking to Kathimerini, an official from the Ministry of Citizens’ Protection confirmed what government spokesman Stelios Petsas told Alpha TV, that the decision to withdraw riot units was taken after the completion of the first phase of preparatory work for the construction of the centers.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who said migrants should not come to Greece, was to meet Feb. 27 with North Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris and the five island mayors in an effort to de-escalate tensions.
The main protests took place in the areas of Diavolorema, Kavakli and Karava on Lesbos, where the government is expropriating land to build the centers and as officials on all the islands holding refugees and migrants have seen appeals for aid mostly unheeded.
A riot policeman tries to avoid a petrol bomb thrown by protesters during clashes at the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
Protesters throw petrol bombs at riot police during clashes at the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Dozens of policemen deployed to two eastern Greek islands to quell protests over planned new migrant detention centers have been injured during two days of clashes with local residents, authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)