Greek islanders, police clash as opposition to detention centres grows

Riot police block the path of protesters during a rally in Lesbos, Greece on Tuesday. Clashes broke out overnight on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios, where residents tried to prevent the arrival of riot police and excavating machines to be used to build new migrant detention camps. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

The Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios were filled with riot police and residents on Tuesday (Feb. 25) as the government continues to meet fierce backlash to construction plans for new migrant detention camps there.

Police were forced to fire tear gas and flash grenades to break up the angry crowds – as the European country tries other solutions to its growing migrant problem.

In the residents’ eyes, any detention camps should be set up on the mainland, however, the government is moving ahead to build the new facilities and replace existing camps to address worsening overcrowding.

On chartered ferries, authorities attempted to bring excavating machines from the mainland, but the fuming residents blocked access to roads and ports.

Protesters set fire to trash bins and used municipal garbage trucks to try and block off the port area on Lesbos. The situation was the same on Chios.

At least three people, including Chios’ mayor, were hospitalised for respiratory difficulties caused by tear gas exposure.

Greece, according to the UN refugee agency, is the busiest entry point for illegal migration in the European Union (EU).

Most arrivals occur on eastern Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast. Under a 2016 agreement backed and funded by the EU, the movement of migrants is restricted to those islands until their asylum claims are processed.

Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees arrived on Greek islands last year, almost double the number recorded in 2018, the UN refugee agency indicated.