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Migrant occupation of central square of Mitilini enters fourth day

Afghan migrants – mostly young men – protest “death” of compatriot, demand better conditions and immediate processing of asylum requests

Afghani migrants, mostly young men, occupy Sappho Square in Lesvos, April 2018.

The occupation of the central square of the town of Mitilini, capital of the island of Lesvos, has entered its fourth day. Approximately 200 migrants, mostly hailing from Afghanistan, have taken over Sappho Square in Mitilini, demanding better living conditions at the Morias internment camp and the immediate processing of their requests for asylum, while protesting the recent “death” of an Afghani migrant.

Specifically, the migrant occupiers are protesting the death of an Afghan migrant said to have been suffering from a chronic heart condition. Reports of the migrant’s death, however, have been denied by all relevant bodies, including Mitilini Hospital, which has announced that the individual in question is still being treated.

Nevertheless, 200+ migrants — almost all young males — continue to occupy Sappho Square, the most central location in the town of Mitilini, openly performing Muslim prayers and chant “open toe borders,” while defying requests from the local municipality and from police to vacate the square. Hand-painted banners in neat, clear English read “We Want Peace not Violence,” “Where is United Nations?” and “Are we not humans?”

Migrants on the scene have described the Morias internment camp on Lesvos Island as “a living hell,” one housing over 6,000 individuals despite a capacity of 1,500. Nevertheless, the Morias camp has also been the site of rioting on the part of migrants, such as a recent incident on April 9, when the camp’s medical center was vandalized and destroyed in its entirety. No arrests have resulted from this incident, while the Greek armed forces have now been burdened with the medical care of the camp’s inhabitants.

The mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, has demanded that the square be immediately vacated by the police, stating that “the city and its citizens cannot be used as a pressure lever towards the authorities. Such practices from refugees, migrants, and NGOs operating on their behalf must be responded to with all legal means.” Local authorities also have filed a criminal complaint, calling upon prosecutors to take action against the occupation, while Galinos has also sent a letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, calling for action to be taken.

National state broadcaster ERT, a SYRIZA stronghold, nevertheless has adopted a different view of the situation, describing the occupation of Sappho Square as a “battle for survival” while not questioning the migrants’ claims regarding the purported death of their compatriot.

As of Friday evening, Sappho Square is surrounded by police forces, which however have not yet moved in on its occupiers. Local police authorities have complained about a lack of personnel to handle the large population of migrants in Morias and across the island. Lesvos — and its capital Mitilini — have been at the front lines of the inflow of migrants into Greece. According to police estimates, 11,000 migrants are on the island at the present time (while its total population according to the 2011 census is 86,436), including the 6,500 housed at the Morias camp.

As the occupation in Mitilini has continued, a similar occupation is also taking place in Thessaloniki.

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