Clashes broke out on two Greek islands early on Tuesday between police and residents protesting the construction of migrant detention centres at a focal point of the refugee crisis.
Incidents were reported on Lesbos and Chios, outlying Greek islands on the front line of a migratory flow of refugees and asylum seekers.
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Witnesses said about 500 people attempted to block the unloading of heavy machinery overnight to break ground at a construction site on Lesbos.
Clashes on the streets followed, with residents attempting to block access to the construction site. Police used tear gas in clashes with locals close to the area, where dozens of people wore surgical masks, including a priest. Similar tensions were reported on Chios.
Greece’s conservative government has taken a markedly tougher stance towards migration compared with the previous leftist government, issuing a tender for the construction of a floating fence to deter asylum seekers arriving by sea, and introducing faster processing procedures that could increase deportations.
The site on Lesbos will be a closed camp – in which residents will be locked in overnight – that tightly controls access, and will replace a current open-access camp at Moria, a sprawling facility built for fewer than 3,000 people, but which is now accommodating more than 18,000 asylum seekers.
“The government is making an effort to change something, to implement a plan,” a government official said.
“If we don’t construct new facilities, living conditions won’t improve.”
Greek authorities plan to construct closed detention facilities on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros islands. The islands are close to Turkey, from where thousands of asylum seekers head to Europe each year.
Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016 before a deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow.
There has, however, been a resurgence in arrivals since September 2019.