The deployment of hundreds of riot police on the islands of Lesvos and Chios was intended as a display of governmental decisiveness in building closed detention centres to house migrants and refugees, but the operation boomeranged with dramatic clashes between islanders and police receiving intense media coverage and mutual recriminations between protesting residents who charged extensive police violence and the public order ministry which announced that over 40 officers were injured.
Nineteen lawyers from Mytilini, the capital of Lesvos, have filed a lawsuit against “all bearing criminal responsibility” detailing acts of violence and egregious violation of police regulations during their operations on the island.
The charges in the lawsuit include unprovoked violence by riot police over three days, the use of chemicals the expiration date of which had passed against protesters, the use (according to citizens’ accounts) of ammunition of an undetermined type against protesters [the government denies claims that rubber bullets were used], flares to break up demonstrations, property damage, and cursing the citizens of Lesvos with obscene language.
The lawsuit claims that MAT riot police hurled insults such as “seeds of Turks” [many families were refugees from Asia Minor in 1923], “sons of whores”, and “dolts we will screw you”. It also charges that authorities disseminated fake news – including the claim that the islanders had taken up guns.
Mitsotakis seeks to defuse tensions, meets with local officials
Today’s scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Northern Aegean Prefect Kostas Moutzouris and island mayors was the latest indication that the crisis is spinning out of control and is now being handled at the highest levels of government.
The government’s explanation for the unprecedented show of force is that for several months local officials including Moutzouris refused to cooperate and reach any comprise.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis, a native of Chios, lashed out at protesters who resorted to violence suggesting that many were from both the extreme left and the extreme right, which was reminiscent of SYRIZA’s argument that protesters against the Greece-North Macedonia Prespa Agreement were extreme right elements.
PM to migrants: “Don’t come to Greece!”
Mitsotakis in an impassioned and at times stentorian speech yesterday in Alexandroupolis warned migrants who travel from the shores of Turkey to the Greek but are not eligible for international protection (asylum) as refugees, “Do not come to Greece!”
At the same time the PM urged the islanders to remain calm and tone down their rhetoric so that the problem may be resolved.
The government has argued that the closed detention centres will serve as a disincentive for migrants considering the voyage to Greece.
Government links migrants to coronavirus
Another argument that has been severely criticised by the opposition and a segment of the media is government spokesman Stelios Petsas’ attempt to link the coronavirus with the closed centres on the grounds that migrants’ enclosure is a measure that will limit the public health threat.
Following the fierce clashes between riot police and islanders the government decided to withdraw the vast majority of officers declaring that they had completed their task of ensuring that construction machinery reach the sites of the planned closed centres.