Dozens of refugees, including pregnant women and children, on the Greek island of Chios, are spending the night out in the cold, too frightened to return to their camp after a suspected far-right group attacked it with Molotov cocktails and massive stones “bigger than the size of a football”.
More than 100 residents of the island’s Souda camp, located next to the ruins of an ancient castle in central Chios, lost their places to sleep after several tents were destroyed in two nights of incidents, according to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR).
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“Families are so scared that they prefer not to return to the camp, although they don’t have any other accommodation,” Roland Schoenbauer, spokesman for UNHCR Greece, told Al Jazeera.
The latest large-scale attack happened on Thursday evening, when outsiders standing on top of the ruins hurled Molotov bombs and giant rocks directly into the refugees’ tents, aid groups and solidarity workers told Al Jazeera.
“It was just pure luck that no child was hit in the head by these massive stones, because that would have been most likely deadly,” Claire Whelan, a Chios-based protection and advocacy adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Al Jazeera.
“There were also Molotov cocktails being thrown from the top and fires broke out. This is a very narrow tent camp, and it is very dangerous when there’s a fire.”
Police told Al Jazeera that an investigation is under way to determine whether a Molotov cocktail had caused the fire in the municipality-run camp, which is home to some 800 refugees, according to UNHCR.
Fleeing the camp
Thursday’s attack followed another violent incident the previous night.
According to the police, refugees allegedly broke into a nearby fireworks store on Wednesday, and then let off fireworks from inside the camp into the surrounding area. Riot police arrived at the scene and detained 37 refugees following clashes. Four were eventually arrested.
But volunteer sources told Al Jazeera that the refugees launched the fireworks only after massive stones were thrown into the camp from the nearby ruins by suspected far-right individuals.
“After the intervention of riot police, all hell broke loose – women and children were in a panic trying to find a place to hide,” Marios, a 23-year-old Chios-based solidarity worker, told Al Jazeera.
“Later, a group of locally well-known far-right individuals was waiting outside the camp and hurled abuse towards the detained refugees, and some of them physically attacked them.”
Aid workers also told Al Jazeera that they believed members of a far-right group were responsible for at least parts of the violence in Souda.
The attacks prompted dozens of refugees to flee the camp, and many of them are now too scared to return.
“A lot of people left the camp and stayed outside in the cold; some volunteers came with blankets and tea to warm them up,” Ina Sohus, a Chios-based coordinator for the A Drop in the Ocean aid group, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s very cold but they’re staying outside. People are trying to find a safe place to sleep; everyone is asking where it’s safe [to go].”
‘Serious head injury’
Tensions remained high on Friday, with a young Syrian man sustaining serious head injuries after being hit by a stone thrown at him, UNHCR’s Schoenbauer told Al Jazeera. Several other refugees were also injured in the two previous days of violence, aid groups and volunteers told Al Jazeera.
So far, there have been no arrests or detentions over the attacks on the refugees, and aid groups are warning that the authorities are not doing enough to protect Souda’s residents.
“There are police around, but obviously if there are no consequences for those who are attacking the camp, they might as well continue,” Sohus said.
“It seems what the attackers are trying to do is to empty the camp; they want to see it gone and it seems that there is no one able to stop them, and this is very concerning.”
According to UNHCR, there are roughly 2,000 refugees currently stuck in Chios – 60 percent Syrians, 20 percent Iraqis, 10 percent North Africans and 10 percent other nationalities.
The overcrowding, coupled with poor living conditions and severe delays in the processing of asylum claims, has resulted in growing tensions and uncertainty, exacerbated by a series of Balkan border closures and the controversial EU-Turkey deal in March aimed at stopping the flow of refugees into Europe.
“These people have been stranded on this island for six months, and they have no hope,” Whelan said.
“So there is already frustration, there is already tension, destitution and sadness – and now, in addition, they are faced with Molotov cocktails, rocks and hatred.”