migrants
*Image Credit: Eurokinissi

Locals prevented buses carrying refugees being relocated from congested Aegean island camps to new accommodation in northern Greece, and set fire to a hotel where they were supposed to be housed, Greek authorities reported on Wednesday.

According to reports, 150 protesters prevented buses carrying 57 refugees from reaching a rented hotel in Panagitsa, Pella, North Greece, by throwing stones and other objects at the vehicles. They then set fire to a room on the hotel’s ground floor.

After Panagitsa, the refugees were transferred to a hotel to Arnissa where, according to police sources, approximately 250 individuals set fires on the road. Afterwards they attacked the hotel owners and threw stones and other objects at the hotel building.

Police considered the condition dangerous for the refugees’ safety and led them to another hotel in Chalkidona, Thessaloniki.

The mayor of Edessa (the capital of the Pella regional unit) Dimitris Giannou, condemned the incidents stating that they have nothing to do with the migration issue. Speaking to AMNA, he said that police reassured him that there were no migrants inside the hotel adding that “such actions do not express the majority of the people in the region.”

Smaller protests also occurred at a hotel in the northern region of Kilkis, where 250 migrants from Lesvos were being taken to. Those protests were short-lived, however, and the migrants were housed in the facility which already accommodates asylum-seekers, authorities said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Migration & Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakis stated that Greece respects the rights of asylum applicants, but is obliged to protect the borders and its own citizens.

His comments were made during a speech at the parliamentary committee working on a bill to change migration legislation.

“Our country respects International Law and the rights of those applying for asylum, which are absolutely respected,” Mitarakis said, “but I have not heard anything about the rights of the country and of Greek citizens. I have not heard anything about the obligation the Greek state has to protect its borders and its citizens.”

The minister also noted that the outstanding asylum applications are no longer 125,000 in total but 105,000, and are being reduced gradually. He also said the Asylum Service has retained the same two top officials that the previous government of Syriza appointed.

On the issue of returning migrants whose applications are rejected, Mitarakis said the extension of detention is only used when there is a lack of a better alternative.

Responding to agencies about interpreters, he said the government is collaborating with Metadrasi organization and has signed an agreement for more interpreters. It is rarely that a language cannot be accommodated, he said.

The organizations represented included the UN High Commission for Refugees, the National Commission for Human Rights, the Greek ombudsman, the National Confederation of People with Disabilities, the Athens Bar Association, the METAdrasi Citizens Society Organization, the Hellenic Red Cross, the Social Youth Support Organization ARSIS, Amnesty International, the International Migration Organization, the Greek Refugees Forum, the Médecins du Monde and the head of the Unified Independent Authority of Public Contracts.