In night of violence, Greeks try to block access to migrant camp building sites

ATHENS (Reuters) – Police in riot gear threw teargas and fired water cannon at Greek islanders as they tried to prevent access to construction sites for new migrant detention centers by setting fires, hurling flares and blockading the gates.

Locals on Lesbos and Chios are worried that the centers, which would replace temporary camps with open access, will leave the islands permanently overcrowded.

Vowing to press on with the building work, authorities say closed centers will offer greater public safety and limit potential health risks, particularly given the potential spread of the coronavirus in other countries.

“It is clearly evident that matters such as the coronavirus can be dealt with swiftly and effectively in a closed facility and not an anarchic, open facility which is a health time bomb,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.

There are currently no cases in Greece.

Locals run amid tear gas smoke as they try to prevent the arrival of a ferry carrying riot police reinforcements sent for monitoring the creation of a new closed migrant detention centre, at the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

The authorities moved to send police reinforcements to the islands to deal with the protests, prompting more clashes as islanders tried to prevent the arrival of the ferries.

Condemning what he called a “day of shame”, Costas Moutzouris, governor of the northern Aegean region, branded the deployment “extremely aggressive” and announced a decision by local authorities there to hold a 24 hour general strike on Wednesday against the actions of the central government, the Athens News Agency reported.

Witnesses said about 500 people attempted to block the unloading of heavy machinery overnight to break ground at the construction site on Lesbos.

Clashes between protesters and police broke out and fires burned on the streets and in the roadside brushland, ignited by the flares. Similar tensions were reported on Chios, where residents also say they are bearing the burden of the refugee crisis.

In addition to Lesbos and Chios, Greek authorities plan to construct closed detention facilities on Samos, Kos and Leros. The islands are close to Turkey, from where thousands of asylum seekers head to Europe each year.

Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016 before a deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow. There has, however, been a resurgence in arrivals since September 2019.

The overcrowded Moria camp on Lesbos accommodates more than 18,000 people in conditions aid organizations say are appalling.

The conservative government has taken a markedly tougher stance towards migration compared to the previous leftist government, issuing a tender for the construction of a floating fence to deter asylum seekers arriving by sea and introducing faster processing procedures that could increase deportations.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alison Williams)

For asylum-seekers on Greece’s Lesbos, life ‘is so bad here’

Migrants wash their clothes and fill bottles with water at a makeshift camp next to the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – Hundreds of asylum-seekers stranded on Greece’s Lesbos island are living in makeshift tents in a field overrun by garbage, without electricity or running water.

Moria, Greece’s biggest migrant camp in a former military base on the island, is holding 9,000 people, nearly three times its capacity, according to the latest government data.

A view of the Moria camp for refugees and migrants and a makeshift camp set next to Moria, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

A view of the Moria camp for refugees and migrants and a makeshift camp set next to Moria, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

Aerial footage obtained by Reuters shows several dozen tents have spilled over into an adjacent olive grove, where hundreds of asylum-seekers, most of them Afghan, live in grim conditions.

Young children with muddied faces play among piles of rubbish and women wash clothes and plates in buckets of murky water. Others break off tree branches to shelter their tents from the elements.

“The situation is so bad here,” said Ali, an Afghan asylum-seeker who arrived in Greece with his three children in August. “Night is so bad … my children cannot go to the toilet because everywhere it is dark here and we are in a forest.”

Greece has said it will move 2,000 asylum-seekers from the island to the mainland by the end of the month as aid groups increased pressure on the government to ease the overcrowding.

A local governor threatened to shut Moria down next month unless authorities clean up what health inspectors described as “uncontrollable amounts of waste.”

A tent is illuminated at a makeshift camp next to the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

A tent is illuminated at a makeshift camp next to the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

In Athens on Wednesday, the European Union’s top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said it was an EU “priority to create the best possible conditions on the islands”.

Small numbers of migrant boats arrive on Lesbos and other Greek islands near Turkey every week, though they are a fraction of the nearly 1 million people who landed in Greece in 2015.

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump says he won’t let U.S. become ‘migrant camp’

A view of inside U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facility shows detainees inside fenced areas at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas, U.S., June 17, 2018. Picture taken on June 17, 2018. Courtesy CBP/Handout via REUTERS

By Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he would not allow the United States to become a “migrant camp” as his administration faced a barrage of criticism for separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats and some in Trump’s own Republican Party have blasted the administration for separating nearly 2,000 children from their parents at the border between mid-April and the end of May. Medical professionals have said the practice could cause lasting trauma to children.

The family separations are the result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that arrests all adults who are caught trying to enter the United States illegally, including those seeking asylum.

While parents are held in jail, their children are sent to separate detention facilities. Video footage released by the government showed migrant children held in wire cages, sitting on concrete floors.

Trump, who has made a tough stance on immigration a major goal of his presidency, responded sharply to critics on Monday.

“The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. It won’t be. You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places – we can’t allow that to happen to the United States, not on my watch,” Trump said. He was speaking at the White House while announcing an unrelated policy.

Trump has sought to use the widespread outrage over the family separations to push through other immigration priorities that have stalled in Congress, such as funding for his long-promised wall along the Mexican border.

He has consistently blamed Democrats for the impasse, even though his fellow Republicans control both chambers in Congress. Democrats have accused the president of using children as hostages in the political dispute over immigration.

“This was done by the president, not Democrats. He can fix it tomorrow if he wants to, and if he doesn’t want to, he should own up to the fact that he’s doing it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a prepared statement.

Earlier, Trump said on Twitter that people should be wary of what he called the cultural change caused by migrants in Europe. He cited immigration for causing political instability in Germany and said inaccurately that crime in Germany was “way up.”

“Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” he tweeted.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the way migrant children are being treated. “They’re not put in jail, of course. They’re taken care of,” he said at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans on Monday.

Trump administration officials say the zero-tolerance policy, which was not practiced by the two previous administrations, is necessary to secure the border and deter illegal immigration, but they are facing a growing chorus of criticism from their Republican allies.

“Why we would even think that this is a tool that is needed to defend our borders is insane,” Republican Representative Will Hurd, who represents a Texas district along the border, told National Public Radio.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres weighed in, saying refugee and migrant “children must not be traumatized by being separated from their parents.” In Geneva, the top U.N. human rights official called on the Trump administration to halt its “unconscionable” policy of forcibly separating children from migrant parents.

PRESSURE ON CONGRESS

Trump was due to meet with Republicans in the House of Representatives on Tuesday as they prepared to vote on two immigration bills.

One would end the separation policy, fund the border wall and give legal protections to some immigrants who entered the country as children. Details were still in flux.

The bill faces strong headwinds as it is opposed by Democrats, who object to another provision that would cut legal immigration levels, and conservative Republicans who are backing a rival bill that takes a harder line on immigration.

Trump again blamed Democrats for the family separations on Monday, tweeting, “It is the Democrats (sic) fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder (sic) Security and Crime.”

His tweet about Germany referred to a political dispute over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migrant policy that is threatening her governing coalition.

More than 1.6 million migrants, mostly Muslims fleeing wars in the Middle East, have arrived in Germany since 2014. Contrary to Trump’s assertion, the crime rate in Germany is at its lowest point in more than 30 years, according to figures reported by the country’s internal ministry last month.

Illustrating the wide concern in the United States over the family separations, Laura Bush, married to the last Republican president before Trump, took the highly unusual step of publishing an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, Father’s Day.

She wrote, “this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Nathan Frandino in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Frances Kerry)