Asylum seekers protest for 2nd day on Greek island

Asylum seekers protest for 2nd day on Greek island
Riot police block a road to prevent protesting migrants from reaching the island's main town of Mytilene during a demonstration on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. The demonstration was held to protest severe overcrowding at the island's refugee camp and delays in the asylum procedure. (Manolis Lagoutaris/InTime News via AP)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Asylum-seekers demonstrated on the Greek island of Lesbos for a second day to protest increasingly dire living conditions in and around the island’s massively overcrowded migrant camp and delays in Greece’s asylum application process.

The protest by about 300 asylum-seekers, most of them from Afghanistan, Tuesday came a day after riot police used tear gas to disperse several hundred residents of the Moria camp who planned to march to the capital of Lesbos.

Conditions in the severely overcrowded island camps have deteriorated dramatically in recent months. On Lesbos, more than 19,500 asylum-seekers are living in and around the Moria camp, which was built to house 2,840 people.

The situation has increased tension with island residents, who have called for the camp’s residents to be transferred away. Local officials have called on the Greek government to declare a state of emergency on the islands.

Under a 2016 deal the European Union reached with Turkey to curb an upsurge in Europe-bound refugees and migrants, those who arrive on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast remain where they landed pending deportation unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.

But a massive backlog in asylum applications has led to thousands of refugees and migrants being trapped on the Greek islands.

Greece’s 7-month-old government has vowed to ease the overcrowding by speeding up the processing of asylum claims, speeding up the deportations of rejected applicants and cracking down on new arrivals.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Tuesday that Greek authorities are aiming to get the number of people deported up to 200 a week within the next three months.

That would represent a huge increase; a total of 391 people were returned in 2019, and 85 were deported last month, Petsas said.

“There is a very large number of people who are currently on the northeastern Aegean islands due to the increased number of flows our country saw in the second half on 2019,” Petsas said.