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FAR-RIGHT protest groups on three eastern Greek islands began setting up blockades today aimed at stopping the country’s right-wing government from building new migrant detention centres.
The groups on Lesbos, Chios, and Samos have received some support on the islands, including from municipal authorities and farming associations.
On Friday, UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi called on Greece to urgently address the “shocking and shameful” conditions on the Aegean islands by opening 20,000 reception places on the mainland and moving asylum-seekers there as quickly as possible.
The government said it was determined to build new detention centres on recently appropriated land to replace the overcrowded camps on the islands.
But some islanders fear that new facilities will only increase the number of migrants and refugees after the government failed to deliver on a pledge to ease overcrowding over the winter months.
“We are guarding the [appropriated] area, and if they start building, everyone here and from the surrounding villages will join the protest – because we don’t want this,” Stephanos Apostolou, a protest organiser and municipal council member from the village of Mantamados on Lesbos, said.
Greece remains the European Union’s busiest entry point for refugees and migrants, with nearly 4,000 making the winter crossing from Turkey to Greek islands this year, according to data from the United Nations refugee agency.
Croatia’s Foreign & European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlic-Radman, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said its priority was to improve screening mechanisms to separate “legitimate” asylum-seekers from other migrants entering the 27-nation bloc.
“We have to make a distinction between the refugees and illegal immigration,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of south-east European foreign ministers in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
“That’s very important, and we have to fight the smugglers, the criminals who organise illegal immigration and we should should protect the European Union from illegal immigration.”
The Moria camp in Lesbos is currently home to about 18,000 refugees in a facility built for 2,200. The people there lack even the basics in terms of hygiene, toilets, security and medical services.
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