Greek Islands Revolt Over Migrant Detention Centers



Lesvos residents protesting against the overcrowding of migrant camps on January 21, 2020

Authorities in several islands in the North Aegean have now openly revolted against the Greek government after Monday’s announcement of a new bill allowing the state to requisition land in order to build new migrant detention centers.

Tthe municipalities of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros – which already have migrant processing centers – are now actively opposing the government’s plan to appropriate land to construct detention facilities which will hold migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected and are in the process of deportation.

Island residents have also rallied in opposition to the building of any new migrant centers.

North Aegean Region Governor Kostas Moutzouris stated on ANT1 television on Wednesday that regional and local authorities in Greece have completely lost trust in the national government and want to cease any dialogue with Maximos Mansion and the Immigration and Asylum Ministry.

Moutzouris stated that one reason for the uproar is that the government proceeded to push through its recent Legislative Act without first consulting with regional and municipal authorities.

And although there was a scheduled meeting of local authorities with Notis Mitarakis, the Minister for Immigration and Asylum, this coming Thursday, the meeting was abruptly cancelled. The government then announced the decision for the land acquisition to construct the enclosed migrant camps on Monday.

The governor also said that the land requisition issue was not mentioned in discussions with the Minister held just two weeks ago.

Moutzouris added that it had been promised in the government discussions that the islands which bear the brunt of the migrant influx — especially Lesvos — will have their burden lightened, with thousands of asylum seekers to be moved to the mainland.

However, Moutzouris said, this promise has not been kept.

The Lesvos municipal authority has already decided to take action on this issue. Groups of residents are taking turns guarding an area near Karavas in order to prevent the construction of a planned enclosed migrant camp there.

The situation on the North Aegean islands is clearly out of control. Dozens, even hundreds, of migrants are still arriving on a daily basis, while processing and identification are time-consuming procedures which, in most cases, take months to complete.

In the period from September 16-26, 2019, a total of 5,135 migrants landed on the Greek islands after leaving from the shores of Turkey. During that same time period, only 1,623 individuals were transferred on to the Greek mainland, according to the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum.

Additional figures illustrating the incredibly difficult situation is the number of migrants currently living on Leros. According to mayor Michalis Kollias, Leros has 8,500 permanent residents but is currently housing 3,500 migrants.

Kollias said that it now takes residents three months to book an appointment at the island’s health center because of the numerous demands of migrants for health services.

The overcrowding in island migrant camps has created serious problems in local communities, with island residents complaining of looting, thefts and even sexual harassment by migrants. Violent riots, including the setting of fires, inside and outside the camps are more frequent now than in the past.

Other than the continuous inflow of migrants, an important factor in the congestion on the islands and the out-of-control situation on the mainland are the current asylum application procedures.

According to Ministry of Immigration and Asylum sources, the previous procedures prolong the stay of migrants who do not qualify for political asylum. The vast majority of arrivals lack proper documentation, and identification procedures take a great deal of time to complete.

Furthermore, the previous legislation allowed applicants who do not qualify for asylum the right to appeal. The appeal process, naturally, is also a time-consuming one, which prolongs the stay of unqualified individuals who otherwise have no right to be in the country.

The new legislation that was passed in November of 2019 aims at tackling the problem by not only shortening the stays of unqualified applicants but also abolishing the right to appeal if their initial application is rejected.

Public opinion polls show that over 60 percent of Greeks now believe that the migrant influx will have a negative impact on Greece. And while the current government had promised that it will manage the migrant issue more effectively than its predecessor, so far it is lacking in results.

Some of the measures which have been proposed by experts include putting into effect the Legislative Act regarding granting asylum more quickly, expedited application processing, and more frequent deportations of unqualified asylum seekers or returning refugees to Turkey.

Another measure recommended by experts is a further enhancement of Coast Guard patrols to curb the massive influx of people to the islands.