Tension for second day on Lesvos, as would-be asylum seekers again take to streets

Tuesday, 04 February 2020 14:59
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A tense situation continued on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos (Mytilene) on Tuesday, a day after roughly 2,000 asylum seekers temporarily hosted on the isle rioted, demanding better living conditions and faster asylum procedures.

Lesvos has been the hardest-hit of a handful of Greek islands in the eastern Aegean since the migrant/refugee crisis erupted in early 2015, coinciding with the shambolic first months of power of a leftist SYRIZA government. The problem again surged over the summer of 2019, with the assumption of power by the conservative New Democracy government.

All of the third countries nationals are being ferried over from the opposite Turkish coast by people smugglers or using flimsy craft to make the journey themselves, in a bid to reach EU territory (Greece) before trekking on to preferred destinations in central and western Europe. Although the vast majority of would-be asylum seekers in 2015 were from war-ravaged Syria and Iraq, tens of thousands of would-be migrants from sub-Sahara Africa to central Asia and as far as south Asia, have since assembled in western Turkey in a bid to try and sneak into Greece.

More riot police units were transported to the large island overnight on Tuesday, with local officials and residents also taking to the streets and airwaves to voice their anger over the continuing problem, with the Moria "hotspot" the biggest headache.

On Tuesday roughly 300 Afghan nationals, mostly young males, gathered in the island capital of Mytilene.

In referring to Monday's incidents on the island, government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters that "yesterday's incidents in Moria demonstrate the primary obligation of the state, which is the security of its citizens ... and they confirm the need to accelerate the procedures for asylum, and repatriation of those who are not eligible for asylum, along with the operation of closed and controlled centers (hotspots)."

The Mitsotakis government has fared well in all opinion polls since winning a snap election in July 2019 in all categories, except one: dealing with the resurgent migrant/refugee problem. Pressure has been building on the government to fulfill its pre-election "get tough" pledges in terms of illegal people smuggling.

Among others, the government this week announced that a register of NGOs dealing with would-be asylum seekers and irregular migrants will be compiled.

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