Greece: Island mayors in Athens to protest migrant situation


Protesters take part in a rally in the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Local residents and business owners have launched a day of protest on the Greek islands hardest hit by migration, demanding the Greek government ease severe overcrowding at refugee camps.  AP PHOTO

Greece: Island mayors in Athens to protest migrant situation


The “anxiety and indignation” of Greek island residents living at the forefront of a migration crisis are justified, Greece’s migration and asylum minister said Thursday while vowing new measures to address increasing arrivals of migrants to the islands.

Residents and business owners on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos have held two days of protests and went on strike to demand that the government tackle severe overcrowding at migrant camps that are all grossly over capacity.

Local mayors and the regional governor traveled to Athens to meet with Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis Thursday to press their demands.

“We consider citizens’ anxiety and indignation justified,” Mitarakis said after the meeting. “Our country is indeed dealing with a migration crisis, and increased migration flows in 2019” put pressure on local communities, he said.

Greece’s six-month-old government has vowed to ease refugee camp overcrowding but so far has not managed to do so. It also said it would speed up deportations and introduce pre-departure camps that are closed. Migrants in the current camps are free to come and go, although they cannot leave the islands.

Greece has been the first point of entry into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty at home, with most arriving on eastern Aegean islands from nearby Turkey.

Under a 2016 EU-Turkey deal, new arrivals must stay on the islands pending deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. Only those deemed vulnerable can be transferred to the mainland.