Thousands of local residents and business owners on the Greek islands, hardest hit by migration, led protest demonstrations demanding that the government ease the severe overcrowding in refugee camps.
Most shops were closed, and public services were halted on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, and Samos, where some refugee camps have more than 10 times the number of people they were built for.
The day of protest was organized by regional governors and mayors who plan to travel to Athens on Thursday to present their demands to the government. About 6,000 people joined a protest on Lesbos and another 2,000 demonstrated on Samos.
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 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.