by Aggelos Skordas
A group of some 300 extreme-rightists attacked migrants protesting the living conditions at the Moria refugee camp and delays in asylum processing on Sunday night at the main square of Lesvos island, which continues to be the epicentre of the migration crisis. According to police sources, the far-right attackers moved threateningly against the migrants (mostly Afghan asylum seekers) squatting since last Wednesday on the square chanting racist remarks while some of them were heard shouting “burn them alive”. The clashes continued until the early hours of Monday when police arrested 120 migrants and refugees as well as only two Greek protestors, all of whom are facing charges of insubordination to authority and illegal occupation of a public space.
The island’s capital city of Mytilene was turned into a battleground on Sunday after a group under the name “Mytilene Patriotic Movement” called through social media its supporters to protest against the continuing detention of the two Greek army officers in Turkey. The group invited the people to Sapphous Square where migrants and refugees, among whom were children and women who were also targeted by the far-rightists, some of them believed to have ties with Golden Dawn.
The attack started at around 8pm after the flag down-haul ceremony when they tried to break through a police cordon guarding the protesting migrants and started throwing stoned, bottles and other objects at the migrants, who tried to protect women and children. Tensions rose even higher when a group of local leftist activists rushed to defend the migrants and chased off the attackers.
Riot police squads stationing on the island made extended use of tear gas as at midnight the skirmishes had spread to other parts of the city. Authorities meanwhile confirmed that the number of people injured and taken to hospital after clashes totalled thirty. The injuries were mostly from stones, with some admitted with breathing problems from teargas. A police operation to evacuate the square and return the migrants to Moria at dawn prevented further escalation of tensions.
Lesvos Mayor Galinos: “The responsibility lies exclusively with the government
On his behalf Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos said “we witnessed a tragedy in what was one of the toughest nights Lesvos has been through in the past few years”. In a letter addressed to the ministers for Migration Policy and Citizens’ Protection Dimitris Vitsas and Nikos Toskas Galinos put onus on the government:
“Despite repeated requests from every level, but also desperate cries for help over the Sapphous Square protest, including local community fear, the government’s persistent lack of action resulted in yesterday’s events. Lack of action and poor management has resulted in nearly 10,000 asylum seekers being trapped in miserable conditions around a town of 27,000 residents and has created intense fear in the local community; a community that has lost its sense of security and after last night’s events its cohesion too. The responsibility for what happened lies exclusively with the government and the way it has for months handled the situation on the islands and Lesvos in particular.”
“This was a well-organised action, with murderous intent, by specific extreme right, criminal and hooligan elements that have nothing to do with the island or its traditions”, ruling left-wing SYRIZA party said in an official statement.