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Strike on Two Greek Islands to Protest Migrant Plans (Photos)

February 27, 2020

ATHENS — Local authorities declared a 24-hour strike on two eastern Greek islands Wednesday to protest government plans to build new migrant detention camps there.

The strike shut down services on the islands of Lesbos and Chios, which have been the main points of arrival for tens of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The strike comes after protesters clashed with riot police on the two islands during efforts to prevent the arrival of excavating machines from the mainland to start construction of the new detention centers.

Greece is the main entry point for asylum seekers attempting to enter the European Union, with most arriving on the eastern Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast. Under a 2016 deal between the European Union and Turkey, new arrivals must remain on those islands until their asylum claims are processed. But a massive backlog in the asylum system coupled with continued arrivals have led to severe overcrowding in existing facilities, which are several times over capacity.

Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees arrived on Greek islands last year, almost double the number recorded in 2018, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

The government has vowed to move ahead with plans to build the new facilities and has promised to replace the existing overcrowded camps. But many island residents and local authorities argue the asylum seekers and migrants should be moved to the Greek mainland.

Migration Min. calls for calmness to prevail on islands with clashes

The disbelief of residents of Aegean islands in government policies on relieving the congested migrant hotspots is understandable, Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Wednesday, calling for peace following “isolated events” on the islands that besmirch their good name.

Speaking at the board meeting of the Central Union of Greek Municipalities (KEDE) of the clashes on the islands of Lesbos and Chios with riot police over the construction of new migrant facilities, Mitarachi said “the islanders’ lack of faith is justified to a great degree” and their reactions are to be respected. “Unfortunately,” he said, “there are isolated incidents that taint the image of the islands and create an escalating tension that must be reduced within the next few hours.”

He also said that he was in constant communication with the local and regional authorities “to bring calmness to the islands.”

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