Tensions have escalated in the Greek island of Leros following a series of attacks on refugees and migrants, while several international volunteers working in refugee camps have been evacuated from the island.
After locals attacked refugees on Saturday and threatened aid workers in the island’s main refugee camp, many international volunteers and groups halted their operations and left Leros on Sunday.
“There have been tensions which targeted both refugees and members of the humanitarian community,” said Katerina Kitidi, a Greece-based communications officer for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
Clashes first broke out in the camp on Thursday due to rising anger over the Greek government’s asylum application process.
On Saturday, with the internal tensions in the camp sparking fear, a group of about 150 mostly Iraqi Yazidis decided to leave the camp and head to the island’s main port Lakki.
‘They told us to get off the island’
Once in the village, they were confronted and attacked by a group of Greek men, she recalled, adding that police only intervened to force the refugees to walk back to the camp. While driving back to the camp, she then received a phone call and was told to leave the island.
Once near the camp’s entrance, a group of about 50 locals with shovels and sticks blocked the road. “They stopped our car and started hitting it,” she said.
“They told us to get off the island. They said if we didn’t get the first boat off the island something terrible would happen. It was scary. The only reason we left the island was because the police weren’t moving at all to help.”
“It was clear that the police were on [the attackers’] side,” Kahane said, explaining that she and her team of nearly 15 volunteers have now relocated to another Greek island.
She added that only a handful of independent volunteers are still on Leros following the rise in tensions between the locals, on the one hand, and asylum seekers and volunteers, on the other.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday, Milena Zajovic Milka of the Are You Syrious? activist group said of Leros: “At the moment, the situation inside the camp seems to be calm. But [the refugees] are still very frightened, and many are injured.”
With anger among refugees and locals on the Greek islands, attacks and clashes have also taken place in other islands, including Chios.
Hail to our brothers in Greece! Drive the enemy into the sea!