Syrians, Iraqis protest after fight in camp on Greek island

June 15, 2015

MYTILENE, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, including women and children, protested Monday on the eastern Greek island of Lesvos, demanding better living conditions, the faster processing of their registration and to be housed separately from Afghan arrivals after a fight broke out in one of the island’s camps.

Lesvos has been bearing the brunt of a huge influx of migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa crossing from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands. More than 50,000 migrants have arrived in Greece already this year, compared to 6,500 in the first five months of last year.

The United Nations’ refugee agency says half of all arrivals in Greece are to Lesvos, where they either sail to shore or are picked up at sea. On Monday, the Greek coast guard said it had picked up 901 people between Friday and Monday in 27 separate incidents at sea off the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Agathonisi, Farmakonisi, Pserimos and Kos.

The refugees in Lesvos said the fight broke out in a rudimentary camp used to house the refugees and migrants and that police who intervened beat both groups indiscriminately. At least three people were injured and treated at a local hospital, a doctor there said.

About 300 people marched to the island’s main port of Mytilene to protest, saying the living conditions in the camp were intolerable, with no electricity or access to decent sanitation or water. “It’s not a camp. It’s a disaster. It’s a zoo,” said Sameer, an Iraqi who arrived on a small boat with dozens of others from the Turkish coast three days earlier. “There is fighting every day. We can’t protect our people, our women.”

Sameer, who would give only his first name for fear of jeopardizing his registration process, said none of those protesting knew how long it would take to get their papers. Migrants arriving in Greece from countries at war or in conflict are given refugee status and renewable papers that allow them temporary residence. But the sheer numbers arriving daily has led to a backlog, with some spending days either sleeping on the streets or in camps waiting to be processed.

“We don’t want to fight with anyone. We just want our papers,” said Faadi, a Syrian from Damascus who also would only give his first name for fear his family would face persecution. “We are all exhausted. We can’t wash. We can’t shave.”

Authorities later moved the protesting Syrians and Iraqis to a larger camp on the island.

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