Violence against migrants and asylum seekers erupted in the Greek island of Lesbos last weekend as part of a trend across Europe that has human rights groups worried.
On Sunday April 22, locals joined far-right groups gathered in Sappho Square on the Greek Island of Lesbos, to complain about the presence of migrants. Several days earlier, 200 asylum seekers, mainly of Afghan origin, had moved into the square to protest against the conditions in their camps and delays in the asylum applications (The New York Times).
The clashes began during the evening when far-right protesters started to throw stones, bottles and firecrackers at migrants while shouting “throw them in the sea” and “burn them alive.” Among the migrants were several women and children that others tried to shield by forming a circle around them (Al Jazeera). The clashes continued overnight until early morning and resulted in 10 people being injured. More than 100 refugees were also arrested after the confrontation (ABC News).
According to a statement from the left-wing Greek party Syriza, the right-wing attacks were part of a “well-organised action by specific extreme right, criminal elements”(The Telegraph).
Amnesty International migration campaigner Kondylia Gogou told Wikitribune that he believes Greek authorities must promptly and transparently investigate the attacks to bring all perpetrators to justice.
“This appalling incident is just the latest in a harrowing saga of abuse and disregard endured by men women and children who already suffered enormously.”
The attacks are part of a larger trend in Greece documented by the Hellenic Police. In March a police spokesperson told Al Jazeera that they recorded 133 hate crimes in 2017 that were motivated by race, national origin and skin color.
Gogou said with increasing numbers of people stuck on the islands, frustrations and tensions are on the rise among asylum-seekers and locals.
Human Rights Watch researcher in Greece, Eva Cossè, told WikiTribune that racist violence is a longstanding issue in the country. A HRW report from 2012 pointed to patterns of attacks against migrants. They occurred at night in town squares and often involved masked perpetrators that made arrests difficult. Cossè said attacks peaked in 2010 but decreased after the government introduced some measures.
“Now the situation is getting worse again, we saw an increase of these kind of attacks and it’s very worrying,” she said.
Now human rights groups and Greek authorities are worried that further conflicts and tensions against migrants will take place in the Aegean Islands, that are located next to the Turkish border (The News York Times).
According to Amnesty International asylum seekers’ protests are a result of the EU-Turkey migration deal introduced in March 2016 that prevents migrants who arrive in the Greek Aegean islands to travel freely in the Greece territory. On April 19, Greece’s top administrative court enacted a new rule that allowed the new arrivals to move freely but on April 25 the government reinstated the travel ban policy. A group of human rights groups called the policy “abusive”(Reuters).
Cossè said organisations have been saying for a long time that the situation in Lesbos and other islands is a “ticking bomb.”
“There are thousands of asylum-seeking women, men and children who are trapped on the island because of an EU policy of containment and this also put a burden on local population.”
Amanda Godballe, a project medical referent with Doctors Without Borders in Lesbos, said that access to healthcare is also big problem in the island.
“There aren’t enough doctors and medical staff to care for the patients and so the access to be seen by a doctor is very limited. Camps have issues with water sanitation and also from our side the situation is challenging at the moment.”
Godballe said the EU policy was also worsening the living conditions and that the number of arrivals was always increasing. She said there were 7000 migrants in Lesbos, much more than 3000 spots available in the camps to host them.
“Confinement is really traumatizing for anyone and considering from where refugees come from they’re already traumatized to some extent and this situation is not making them stay better.”