2000 men, women and children participated in a rally on February 3 to protest the conditions in the overcrowded Moria camp and demand an acceleration of their asylum procedures. The protests were met with excessive force by police and clashes erupted continuing on Tuesday. Local residents of the island are demanding the closure of the camp and the Greek government is deploying extra riot police.

Greek police used teargas and flash grenades to prevent access to the Lesvos island capital of Mytilene for thousands of protesters from the Moria camp including children. 40 people were arrested. The protesters were demanding an acceleration of the asylum process and better conditions in the camp that was built for 3000 people but is now hosting nearly 20,000. Many people have been stuck for months and even years in what is supposed to be a temporary facility. The protests continued on Tuesday with hundreds of people chanting for “Freedom” holding up a banner stating “Our children are still alive”.

Following a heated community meeting attended by Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris and Mytilini Mayor Stratis Kytelis local residents entered the General Secretariat for Aegean and Island policy in the capital of Mytilini staging a sit in and demanding the closure of the camp.

Governor Moutzouris stated: “It’s a powder keg ready to explode… Yesterday I was not just afraid, I was shaking at the idea of where the situation could end up”. Moutzouris also expressed sympathy with the people stuck in Moria: “Things are said all the time and promises are made that are not kept. The migrants are people who are suffering; they have crossed seas and oceans for a better life and are now trapped on Lesvos. Coupled with the appalling living conditions, it is a situation that creates anger and desperation.”

The response from the Greek government came in the form of extra riot police. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who entered office in June and implemented a series of controversial measures targeting asylum seekers stated: “Some people may not like it but they need to understand it: The policy has changed.”

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on February 7 calls for decisive action to end alarming conditions on Aegean islands. According to the Agency as of January 26, Lesvos received 1,586 people seeking protection of a Greek total of 3,445 in 2020.

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Photo: (CC) ChadBriggs, March 2016

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.