Greek islanders protest against migrant camps


Lesbos Island (Greece) (AFP)

Greek islands hosting large migrant camps on Wednesday kicked off a day of protests, demanding the immediate removal of thousands of asylum-seekers.

The islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios staged a general strike, shutting down public services, with street demonstrations scheduled later in the day.

"We want our islands back, we want our lives back," is the main slogan of the protest.

In the largest camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos there are more than 19,000 asylum seekers in a camp with a capacity for 2,840.

The situation is equally severe on other islands and living conditions have been repeatedly criticised by rights groups and medical charities.

The government announced plans in November to build larger camps on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, where there are currently a total of nearly 42,000 migrants and refugees and where there are frequent outbreaks of violence.

But the plans have been strongly opposed by local officials, who want smaller facilities after hosting thousands of asylum seekers for the past five years.

Greece last year again became the main entry into Europe for migrants and refugees, many fleeing war or poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Syria.

The UN refugee agency recorded more than 55,000 arrivals by sea and more than 14,000 via the land border with Turkey.

Only a fraction are allowed passage to the Greek mainland while the rest spend months in the camps, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed.