Sunday 19 November 2017

Police fire tear gas during protest over Kos refugee camp

People protest against a ‘hotspot’ for refugees and migrants on the Aegean island of Kos yesterday. Photo: AFP/Eurokinissi
People protest against a ‘hotspot’ for refugees and migrants on the Aegean island of Kos yesterday. Photo: AFP/Eurokinissi

Nick Squires

Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades at locals protesting against the construction of a refugee and migrant camp on the Greek holiday island of Kos.

Around 1,000 islanders marched to the site of the facility, which is being constructed on an abandoned army base near the village of Pyli, a few miles from beaches and resorts.

It is one of five "hot spots" Greece is building at the request of the EU on a chain of islands facing the Turkish coast - Kos, Lesbos, Chios, Leros and Samos.

Brussels hopes the centres will bring more order to the flood of refugees crossing the Aegean, allowing officials to sort Syrians and genuine refugees from economic migrants from places such as Pakistan and the Maghreb.

The protest was peaceful initially but when a group of islanders surged through police lines guarding an access road to the centre, officers in riot gear fired stun grenades and canisters of tear gas. The crowd quickly dispersed.

The 30,000 inhabitants of Kos fear the migrant camp will damage the image of the island and harm tourism. They also worry that large numbers of young male refugees will be allowed to roam the local area at will.

"This is not about racism; it is about the security of our homes and our children. At the moment, the kids can walk to school on their own but we worry that will all change," said Anna Karagiannis Chatzisevastou (36).

"We do feel very sorry for the refugees but we also worry about terrorism. Greeks are a very hospitable people but this situation has made us feel afraid. The country is already in a horrible economic crisis. It cannot cope."

Islanders do not believe assurances by Greek authorities that migrants will spend no more than 48 hours on the island before being sent by ferry to Athens. "I think they could be here for months. Who's going to take them - France? England? Nobody wants them," said Alex (42), a tourism manager who declined to give his surname.

Meanwhile, Macedonia, Greece's northern neighbour, has said it may close its border if Athens cannot stem the flow of people crossing the Aegean.

Irish Independent

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