Thousands of Greek Citizens Protest Against Migrants, Demand Mass-Deportation
Protesters want asylum seekers removed from Greece's islands over spiralling violence
Greek citizens have flooded the streets in protests, demanding their government deports the tens of thousands of migrants living on Greece's islands.
Thousands of protesters are demanding asylum seekers are removed amid overcrowding and spiraling violence at the refugee camps.
Demonstrators staged a general strike on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, and Chios, shutting down shops and public services and rallying in town squares.
Protesters were waving Greek flags and heard shouting: "We want our islands back, we want our lives back."
Efstratios Peppas, a retired 72-year-old Lesbos resident, said asylum-seekers should be shared out across Greece and the rest of Europe.
"You can't walk alone outside after dark, people get stabbed," he added.
The main slogan chanted at demonstrations was: "We want our islands back, we want our lives back."
The largest camp of Moria on Lesbos island, with a capacity for 2,840 people, hosts more than 19,000 asylum seekers, according to the Daily Mail.
The overcrowding is equally severe on other islands, and rights groups and medical charities have repeatedly criticized the living conditions at the camps.
The government announced plans in November to build larger camps on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, which currently host a total of nearly 42,000 migrants and refugees and where outbreaks of violence - including rioting, rape, and murder - are frequent.
The day of protest was organised by regional governors and mayors who plan to travel to Athens on Thursday to present their demands to the government.
Nearly 75,000 people crossed illegally to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2019, according to the U.N. refugee agency, an increase of nearly 50% from the previous year.
Two young asylum-seekers have been fatally stabbed in brawls at the Moria camp this month.
An 18-year-old Afghan girl was also seriously injured in a knife attack this week and remains in hospital.
And three asylum-seekers in Greek custody have committed suicide in recent weeks.
"We demand the immediate shutdown of Moria," read a banner carried in the Lesbos demonstration.
But the new camp plans have been strongly opposed by local officials, who want smaller facilities after hosting thousands of asylum seekers for the past five years.
"What we want is for people to be transferred to the mainland in greater numbers, for the camp to be phased out and closed, and for any new facility to be located far away from populated areas," Yiannis Mastroyiannis, the leader of Moria's municipal council, told protesters at the main square on Lesbos.
"The people in this area have suffered enough."
Greece last year again became the main entry into Europe for migrants and refugees, with the majority coming from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Syria.
The UN refugee agency in 2019 recorded more than 59,000 arrivals by sea and more than 14,000 via the land border with Turkey.
Already more than 3,000 have arrived so far this year.
Only a fraction are allowed passage to the Greek mainland while the rest spend months in the camps, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed.
On Tuesday, 17 human rights organizations warned of a rising "climate of discrimination and xenophobia" towards asylum-seekers, who also faced "serious consequences to their well-being and public health."