GREECE

Greek far-right groups accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at refugees tents

This photo was taken by our Observer, an Italian volunteer in the Souda refugee camp in Greece.
This photo was taken by our Observer, an Italian volunteer in the Souda refugee camp in Greece.

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Refugees and volunteers at Souda migrant camp on the Greek island of Chios say that far-right elements threw Molotov cocktails at tents where refugee families were staying Thursday night. After two tents burnt to the ground, terrified refugees fled the camp for the night. This incident follows numerous disturbances in the camp as well as in the town of Chios, after a rally for a neo-Nazi group was held on Tuesday.

The town of Chios, which is just seven miles from Turkey, contains three refugee camps where an estimated 3,000 people live. Two camps are official camps, guarded by the Greek military. Souda is an informal camp managed by NGOs.

The large number of refugees has been wearing down the patience of the inhabitants, who have become increasingly hostile to the refugees, especially as their tourism industry has dried up. All of these different tensions have already boiled over into several upsurges of violence this year: there have been clashes between different ethnic groups and refugees have also reported attacks by “right-wing locals”.

However, this week has been particularly bad.

“The police came into the camp and the fascists followed them in”

It started on Tuesday, when supporters of the ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn gathered in Chios for a protest.

Sergio (not his real name) is an Italian volunteer working with an NGO that distributes food at Souda. He described the tension in the camp ahead of this gathering.

We knew about the demonstration because it was advertised on Facebook. We were worried about potential clashes. For security reasons, we served dinner in the camp earlier than usual. We spread the word about the demonstration amongst the refugees and told them to stay in the camp and to not risk leaving.

However, despite their fears, no violence was reported on Tuesday.

Yet things quickly went downhill Wednesday, the day after the Golden Dawn protest. Greek news media, citing locals, reported that some migrants had looted local stores and stole fireworks, which they fired at local houses. They then started rioting.

According to volunteers and refugees, the police carried out a raid on Souda, trying to arrest the rioters.

Ahmad is a Syrian refugee who has been living in Souda for seven months. He describes what happened next.

The police came into the camp and the fascists [Editor’s note: people likely associated with Golden Dawn] followed them in.

I was hiding in a tent with a Syrian family that I know. As we were cowering there, a fascist opened our tent. I saw he had something in his hand that looked like a metal rod. The fascist looked in, but I think he saw the three children and that changed his mind from whatever he wanted to do.

Outside the tent, I saw fascists beating refugees. The police were there, but didn’t say anything.

Citing a police source, Greek media reported that 37 migrants were arrested that night. FRANCE 24 made several attempts to contact the Chios police department as well as the national police press office to ask about the accusations that they had stood by while far-right supporters harassed refugees, but did not receive a response. However, this is not the first time that the police have been accused of failing to stop physical attacks carried out by right-right elements on refugees in Chios.

“They are refugees, they’ve already had their lives destroyed”

During the night, many structures in Souda were badly damaged. Sergio arrived in the camp the next morning.

The first thing we saw was a large tent that had been totally burned. I think about 15 families stayed in that tent.

Souda is like a big street with tents on either side. On one side, a tall stone wall marks the steep side of a hill, and houses overlook it.

Apparently, fascists were up there [on Wednesday night] throwing large stones at the tents. I took pictures of the damage.

Photo taken by an Observer and posted on Twitter. 

Photo taken by an Observer and posted on Twitter.

Someone could have been seriously injured. The people staying in those tents were families with children. They are refugees, they’ve already had their lives destroyed.

They were very stressed. We tried to listen to their stories and give them moral support, what else can we do? Thursday became a reconstruction day.

However, it wasn’t to last. Tension in Chios was rising again.

Ahmad explains what happened Thursday night.

We were in our tents when we heard refugees shouting. Our neighbor's’ tent was burning. When we looked up, we saw about three fascists on the ledge overlooking the camp. They had thrown a molotov cocktail at the tent.

A family, with children, was still inside so we helped to get them out. At about that time, the police arrived. We were scared and we asked them if it was safe now. They said it was ok. However, it wasn’t.

Ahmad filmed refugees trying to put out the fire set by Molotov cocktails. 

As we were cleaning up the rubbish from the burnt tent and bringing the family blankets, the fascists threw more Molotov cocktails and two more tents caught on fire. One burned to the ground, but we managed to put out the fire in the other. However, the shocking thing was that the police did nothing to stop the men throwing the cocktails.

We were too scared to stay in the tents, so many families left the camp and crowded into a parking lot that was not exposed to the ledge.

Video filmed by Ahmad.

Photo taken by Sergio. 

Sergio took this photo of a tent destroyed by a Molotov cocktail. 

"I’d rather go back to Syria”

Sergio spoke to refugees Friday morning.

I feel like 50 percent of the people in the parking lot are kids. Many of the young, single men were arrested or fled the camp during the earlier unrest. Only the most vulnerable remain. Where can they go? There choices are terrible. One refugee told me, ‘If I risk dying in an attack from a Greek fascist, I’d rather go back to Syria and die with my people.”

The future remains uncertain for the camp. Ahmad said that as night fell on the camp on Friday, all of the refugees were returning to spend the night in the parking lot, despite increased police presence. On Thursday morning, Chios Mayor Manolis Vournous called on the Greek migrant minister to close the camp.

Many refugees in the camp are waiting on responses for asylum applications or, if their applications have failed, they are awaiting deportation. Because they arrived after an agreement was signed between the European Union and Turkey to control the flow of refugees and migrants, these refugees are barred from leaving the island without the Greek government's permission. They remain trapped in the camp, and tensions are running high, especially amongst refugees of different nationalities.

An estimated 57,000 refugees have been bottlenecked in Greece since its borders with Macedonia and other countries were sealed in March. In 2015, more than a million refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, according to the UN refugee agency.