Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
The Greek government is determined to move ahead with its plan to build new holding facilities for migrants and refugees as part of a plan to accelerate asylum procedures and deportations on the five islands hosting camps, its spokesman said on Tuesday, amid reactions to the scheme from island residents.
“We are asking the local communities to understand that these closed facilities will benefit the country and their communities,” Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister and Government Spokesperson, Stelios Petsas, told Open TV on Tuesday morning, appealing to locals on the islands of Levos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros, who are opposed to the plan.
His comments came a few hours after protesters on Lesvos and Chios set up roadblocks to prevent construction machinery and crews to reach the plots where the controversial centers will be built and clashed with riot police dispatched to the islands to protect the projects.
“There’s a trust deficit right now that has been cultivated over previous years, and this needs to be restored. We will build these closed centers but also close the existing open ones. That is the government’s promise,” Petsas added, seeking to placate locals who are angry at the slow pace of transfers of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped on the islands to the mainland.
The new camps, he added, “will make it much easier to speed up the asylum process so that those who are entitled to asylum can be transferred west and those who are not can be returned to Turkey.”
Tapping into recent fears over the new coronavirus outbreak in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean, Petsas said that the camps will also help safeguard local communities more effectively than the existing facilities, which he described as “public health bombs.”
Protesters on the Aegean islands of Lesvos and Chios were showing no sign of backing down in their resistance to government plans to build new migrants camps on Tuesday morning, following overnight clashes with riot police.
On Lesvos, protesters have blocked the two roads leading to the planned construction site in Karava Mantamadou to prevent crews and machinery from reaching the location. Those at one of the blockades clashed with riot police who tried to move them along using tear gas on Tuesday morning.
The second cordon of protesters, in the area of Kalloni, was attended by North Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris and West Lesvos Mayor Taxiarchis Verros, both vocal opponents of the government’s plans for five pre-deportation camps to be built on the five islands currently hosting open-style reception centers.
Earlier, hundreds of residents had gathered at the Lesvos port of Mytilini to prevent 10 riot police platoons, dispatched from Athens to protect the construction site, from disembarking. This led to around two hours of clashes, during while riot officers used stun grenades and tear gas.
The situation was also volatile on Chios, where more protests are being planned after residents clashed with police at the port in the early hours of Tuesday when they tried to prevent riot platoons from reaching the island.
According to local media, Chios Mayor Stamatis Karamantzis and a priest who represents the island’s clergymen had to be treated for the effects of what locals described as an “unnecessary use of chemicals.”