Wednesday, June 19 2024

Island mayors at loggerheads with government over migrant camp plans

Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis on Tuesday said that a meeting scheduled later this week with the mayors of the northern and eastern Aegean islands that are slated to acquire closed pre-deportation migrant centers has been cancelled amid reactions from local authorities.

“We haven’t blindsided anyone,” Mitarakis said in televised comments on Tuesday, responding to a backlash from local mayors to Monday’s announcement of legislation allowing the state to requisition land on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros – which already have migrant processing centers – for the construction of facilities where migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected will be held in detention until their departure.

“The government’s position on the issue of the closed centers has been known since November,” Mitarakis said, adding that new open camps are being planned on the mainland to accommodate more transfers from the islands, on top of the 20,000 refugees and migrants who have already been moved from the Aegean camps.

“The new centers are will contribute to the significant decongestion of the islands, as they will have half the accommodation spots than the existing facilities,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, the mayors of three of the islands that will be affected by the government’s decision took to the radio on Tuesday to voice their frustration with the scheme.

“The trust between the residents and the government has been lost,” Mytilini Mayor Efstratios Kytelis told Thema Radio, speaking from the island of Lesvos where tensions between locals and migrants have flared up in recent days.

“If a move were made to transfer 10,000 migrants, the mood would shift instantly,” he added, calling for the closure of the island’s notorious Moria camp and rejecting the plans for the new facility.

Likewise, the mayor of Leros, Michalis Kollias, said that the local authority and residents are prepared “to put up a fight so that our island is not transformed into a huge hot spot.”

“Thousands of refugees have passed through our island since 2015 and then here comes the government, which promised to ease the pressure in its pre-election campaign, with a lightning move to requisition land, to pass the construction of a closed facility in the worst possible way,” Kollias added.

Also speaking to Thema radio, East Samos Mayor Giorgos Stantzos expressed his community’s “complete opposition” to the scheme.

“The number one thing for us is the closure of the existing facility in Vathy,” said Stantzos, whose island has also seen a spike in tension in recent months.

The plan for a detention center is “unviable,” he added.

“Its impossible to provide water and sewerage to an entire city of 7,000 people within just a few months,” he said, stressing the absence of infrastructure to make such a camp possible.