Greek riot police used tear gas to try to disperse angry protesters in Lesbos who tried to turn the police bus during a demonstration against the EU migration policy.
The protesters were among 2,500 demonstrators who gathered at the island’s main port as the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, arrived to speak at a conference. A large contingent of riot police formed a cordon to stop the protesters from advancing further. Scores of them then tried to push over a police bus.
Officers fired teargas and earlier had discharged a flash grenade. No arrests or injuries were reported.
A general strike on Thursday virtually shut down Lesbos to enable the protest against a 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey that has left thousands of asylum seekers stranded on the island. Under the deal, those arriving on Greek islands from Turkey are held and face deportation to the country unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. The deal has created a massive backlog, angering people on Lesbos and other Greek islands.
Most businesses, shops, cafes and local government offices were closed in the main town of Mytilene on Thursday. Stores were also closed in protest on the nearby island of Chios.
More than 15,000 migrants and refugees remain stuck on Lesbos, Chios, and three other islands, most staying in severely overcrowded camps.
Médecins Sans Frontières said “Thousands of people are still living in appalling conditions with limited access to medical facilities.”
It added that conditions at the largest refugee camp “were putting the health and lives of people stranded on the island at risk”.
Additional police officers, including members of anti-riot units, were sent to Lesbos and took up positions around Mytilene. Supporters and opponents of the government used vans fitted with loudspeakers to promote the protest.
Tension on the islands has been building as the number of refugees and migrants arriving from Turkey has risen sharply in recent weeks.
“The situation on the island is exceptionally difficult. We are feeling the effects of a long-term financial crisis and the way the refugee crisis has been handled,” the mayor of Lesbos, Spyros Galinos, said.
“For there to be any talk of growth or recovery, we must first be lifted out of this emergency situation.”
The government has promised to move thousands of asylum seekers to the mainland but says the process will take several months to implement and will require additional staff and more sites around Greece.
The number of daily arrivals continues to rise on Lesbos and at Greece’s land border with Turkey.
Authorities said 53 people – including 23 children – believed to be from Iraq and Syria were picked up on Thursday after a yacht used to smuggle them into the Greece ran aground on a remote mainland beach in the north-east of the country.
The 12-metre (40ft Turkish-flagged yacht ran aground on Molyvoti beach in the Rodopi region, far from any of the usual routes used to ferry migrants and refugees from Turkey to Greece.