Protests against a new migrant camp on the Greek island of Kos turned violent yesterday as police fired tear gas and clashed with local residents.
The island’s 30,000 residents are becoming increasingly agitated at plans to build a sprawling new registration centre after the European Union (EU) ordered Greece to build five new camps to house and separate refugees from economic migrants.
Kos relies heavily on the tourist industry and bookings are already down by about a third this year as thousands of people swamp the island after crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey. Islanders fear the new centre will undermine tourism even further, but the EU has insisted Greece build the camps to try to control the flow of migrants through the continent.
The Times reports that despite Greece promising the five new centres would be ready by today, only three are likely to open this week. A centre on the island of Leros has been delayed after a shipment of containers failed to arrive on time, while construction of the centre on Kos has barely even started due to the strong local resistance.
Meanwhile, residents in the impoverished mainland town of Diavata blocked one of the country’s main highways to stop construction crews reaching a planned transit centre, fearing the project will turn the area into a “ghetto”. The region already houses several Roma settlements and a prison.
The EU has already given Greece a three-month ultimatum to remedy “deficiencies” in controlling the migrant influx. The European Commission said it may expel the country from the EU’s Schengen free-movement zone if does not start properly fingerprinting and registering migrants as they arrive in the country.
Greece’s existing facilities have been overwhelmed by the sheer size of the influx, and some migrants have also refused to be fingerprinted and registered as it means they would be forced to claim asylum there rather than travelling up through Europe.
More than 30,000 migrants crossed the sea to Greece last month, ten times more than the same period last year.