The Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos on Wednesday staged a general strike as a protest against the construction of new migrant camps intensified.
For a second day, protesters on Lesbos faced off against riot police near the town of Mantamados, close to the site of a planned camp for up to 7,000 people.
Small groups of protesters threw stones at the police, who responded with tear gas and flash grenades.
‘We are in a wartime situation. (The police) have the weapons, we have our heart and soul,’ local priest Father Stratis said.
The regional governor’s office has called a 24-hour strike, rejecting the government’s plans to build the new camps to replace currently overcrowded facilities where asylum-seekers live in dire conditions.
There are more than 38,000 migrants crowded into camps on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos despite an official capacity of just 6,200.
The islanders have long complained that the presence of thousands of asylum seekers threatens safety and public health and oppose government plans to build new camps for them on the islands.
‘We are also fighting for those who want to go to a better place. We want them to leave,’ Father Stratis said.
‘We will embrace war refugees, but the criminals should go back.’
The conservative government which came to power in July has announced that the camps on Lesbos, Samos and Chios will be shut down this year, to be replaced with new, smaller facilities that are to be operational by mid-2020.
After weeks of fruitless talks with local officials, the government on Monday shipped construction machinery and hundreds of riot police to Lesbos and Chios, causing outrage.
Opposition parties say the move is undemocratic and regional officials called it a ‘barbaric’ attempt to ‘forcefully turn Lesbos and Chios into prisons’.
The state had already angered the islanders earlier this month by announcing that land could be requisitioned for a three-year period to build the new facilities.
‘There is a limit to our patience. They requisition areas and bring riot police, tear gas people. Are we at war?’ asked Stratos Paspalas, a retired butcher.
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