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Clashes on Greek islands in protest against migrant camp

Clashes on Greek islands in protest against migrant camp
epa08245778 Riot policemen guard the port of Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece, 25 February 2020. Clashes broke out on the islands of Mytilene and Chios in the predawn hours as residents tried to prevent the arrival of riot police who were sent to the islands to ease tension ahead of the construction of new migrant detention camps. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds that gathered to prevent the ships from docking. Residents protest against the government's decision to proceed with the construction of closed type accommodation facilities for refugees and migrants. EPA-EFE/STRATIS BALASKAS

ATHENS, Feb 25 (Reuters) - 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.

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 teargas in clashes with locals close to the area, where scores 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 to 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 that tightly controls access and will replace a current open-access camp at Moria, a sprawling facility built for less than 3,000 people 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. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Ed Osmond)

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