‘It’s a powder keg ready to explode’: Tensions on Lesvos between refugees and locals persist

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Clashes erupted on the Greek island of Lesvos after around 300 asylum seekers marched into Mytilini to protest over their squalid living conditions. The asylum seekers clashed with riot police, yet residents also began mobilising.

After a truck filled with locals stopped outside the town centre, continually blasting its horn through the usually serene town, workers inside hit the lights and pulled down the blinds. There was a message over loudspeakers calling for villagers to gather at the church. And it provided an opportunity for the staff to evacuate those inside two at a time.

Thousands of island locals attended a protest for Athens to process or remove the refugees. General strikes have been called. “It’s a powder keg ready to explode,” regional governor Kostas Moutzouris told local news regarding the situation.

Lesvos residents have also reportedly gathered in several places to prevent arriving migrants from disembarking from boats. At the port of Thermi, about 50 migrants, including several minors, have not been allowed to disembark. Some of those present have shouted abuse at the local representative of UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency.

CNBC spoke with Lesvos local Mikis Papadakis, 47, who donates his time stopping cars on the Mytilini street border, making sure they are Greek locals.

They [refugees] cut the trees. They take the animals — the sheep, the goats. And we feel insecure,” Papadakis said to CNBC.

Another local, Takis Bokolis, 50, also spoke with CNBC about the ongoing crisis.

“The government has forgotten us,” said Bokolis.

“There is a wall between Greece and the EU, and there is a wall between the islands and Athens.”

More than 500 migrants have reached Greece’s Eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios on Sunday, a Greek police official said.

At least seven vessels with more than 300 migrants on board had reached the island of Lesbos, the official said. Some operations were still in progress. Another 150 migrants had reached the island of Samos.

Greek government spokesperson Stelios Petsas noted that these people try to enter Greece by using violence, and thus the country is under an ”active, serious, extraordinary and asymmetrical threat against its security.”

The local economy of Lesvos, largely dependent on tourism, has taken the largest hit out of all the Greek islands. The home of archaic poetess Sappho, the island used to draw holidaymakers for its stunning blue waters, picture-postcard villages, sun-baked olive groves, medieval fortress and world-famous petrified forest.

But tourism dropped by more than 50% in 2016 and, according to business owners on the island, hasn’t recovered by nearly enough. Cruise ships are coming less often — only eight arrived in 2019 compared to 94 in 2011. Tourists that do step onto the island see refugee children reselling bus tickets and a constant flow of those making the trek between camps and into towns.

Sourced by: CNBC

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