Greek citizens on the island of Lesbos went on strike Monday to protest the thousands of asylum-seekers that have been allowed onto their shores, pushing the little island way beyond its capacity.
“Lesbos is not a place of exile,” read a protester’s banner. “Lesbos is in a state of emergency,” said Mayor Spyros Galinos according to Reuters. The protesters assembled to contest Europe’s policies, which they insist have turned their island into a “prison” for refugees and immigrants.
Dozens upon dozens of citizens rallied together in the island’s central square and called for the Greek government to transfer the migrants back to the mainland where they can be better accommodated. In addition to the rally, many closed their shops, businesses, offices and pharmacies as a display of protest.
Almost a million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan came to Lesbos in 2015 on their way to Germany and other European countries, and the island currently houses approximately 8,500 refugees even though it only has reasonable capacity for about 3,000 people.
“Lesbos is not an open prison, nor will we allow anyone to view it as such,” Galinos also said, according to the Athens News Agency. “The message (today) was that we can’t take it any more,” Galinos added, explaining the lesson that the European Union and the international community should take from the protests.
Since the European Union (EU) made an agreement with Turkey to shut down an asylum route through Greece, thousands of migrants have gotten stranded on Lesbos with no place to go other than to the Greece mainland or to its other islands near Lesbos.
The Greek islands of Chios, Samos and Leros also face hazardous overcrowding refugee problems. And despite the agreement to halt activity between Turkey and Greece, approximately 3,700 refugees made it to Greece in August and another 400 arrived in September according to DW.
“Every time the camp is overpopulated, there’s an increase in the security risk as well,” Samos Volunteers aid group coordinator, Bogdan Andrei, told the DW. “Last night, for example there was a big fight between Kurds and Arab Syrians,” he said. Increased reports of self-harm and sexual assault have also resulted from overcrowding on the islands.
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