As Refugee Population On Greek Island Swells, 30 Injured in Attack on Refugees
Two unrelated demonstrations clashed on Sunday night when a group of far-right Greek militants charged a police barrier and attacked a group of asylum-seeking migrants in Mytilene, capital city of Lesvos island.
Unprovoked, these attackers threw stones and flares, hospitalizing a total of 30 refugees and police officers according to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA).
More than 200 individuals from Afghanistan, Syria, and other nations have been camped in Mytilene’s central Sappho Square since last Tuesday to protest the living conditions of Moria, a refugee camp and hotspot where refugees are held during delays in their applications for E.U. asylum.
Nearly a week since the refugee encampment at Sappho Square sprang up, a demonstration of several hundred people arrived at Sappho Square in a public show of support for two Greek soldiers who have been imprisoned in Turkey since early March.
At roughly 8 pm, a portion of these demonstrators then turned and attempted to cross the police barrier that separated the two groups. Comments such as “burn them alive” were spoken by the attackers, according to Greek daily Ekathimerini.
An arm-linked chain of refugee and migrant men and some humanitarian aid workers was formed around women and children, and blankets were lifted to shield from thrown stones.
The attacks continued for hours and dissolved into multiple small fires around Mytilini. Greek Coast Guard officials blocked 15 unidentifiable individuals from approaching with baseball bats, according to reports on CNN. At 3 am, all local individuals were banned from the area.
Just after 5 am on Monday morning, the riot police had dispersed tension and forcibly loaded the refugees and migrants gathered in the square onto buses that would relocate them to Moria.
ANA-MPA reported on Monday afternoon that 120 refugees and migrants were detained following the events.
— ANA-MPA news (@amna_newseng) April 23, 2018
Since the Turkey-EU deal made in March of 2016, the asylum seekers have been prevented from moving to mainland Greece until their application is approved, currently confining more than 5,300 individuals to Moria, which has a capacity of about 2,000.
Last Tuesday, a court in Athens ruled that any new arrivals will be permitted to move from the islands to mainland Greece while they await their asylum verdict, a change that did not include those who have arrived over the past 2 years.
According to numbers reported by the migration ministry, the Greek government received 58,661 applications for asylum in 2017 alone.
While awaiting this court decision, the Lesvos population has experienced rising tensions as the local government voiced their need to relocate some of the refugee and migrant population to mainland Greece.
“Since November , the attacks have been increasing,” Lorraine Leete from the Lesbos Legal Centre told Al Jazeera. Leete’s expressed her observation that far-right elements of the local population had been emboldened by the campaign.
Now, both the migrants and local government will advocate changing the exclusion of long-term Moria residents from awaiting their asylum decision on mainland Greece.
No reports of arrests or consequences for the attackers have emerged.