Protesting migrants forced to return to Moria hotspot after clashes with far-right militants

A night of violence ended in the capital of Lesvos, Mytilene at 5:30 on Monday morning when police forced protesting refugees and migrants camped out in Sappho Square onto a bus that took them back to the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria. The move followed violent clashes that spread from the square to Mytilene’s wharf and surrounding streets on Sunday evening, when far-right militants targeted the migrants in the square and tried to break through a police cordon.

Several people were injured during the violence in the night, mainly migrants and refugees, who were taken to hospital for necessary treatment.

The protestors had been camped out in the square since last Wednesday, protesting against overcrowding and poor living conditions at the Moria hotspot, as well as delays in processing their asylum applications.

In a snap operation that lasted roughly 10 minutes, police broke up a human chain created by the migrants and refugees around the women and children and removed the mainly Afghan protestors from the square one by one, loading them onto the waiting bus by force in spite of their fierce resistance and refusal.

Groups of mainly young far-right militants had attempted all night to break through the police cordon protecting the protestors, lobbing naval flares and firecrackers at the women and children huddled in the square with cries of “burn them alive” and using stones, bottles and other objects to attack them.

The protestors, reinforced by more migrants and refugees that came down from Moria, had form three rings around the women and children and covered them with wet blankets to protect them. The police deployed in the area where also reinforced by a platoon of MAT riot police that surrounded the refugees, as well as sympathetic activists and civilians that came to support them.

The violence had erupted after an event near the square held in support of the two Greek soldiers being held in Turkey, which was attended by large numbers of people. Of these, approximately 200 did not disperse after it ended but made their way to the square to demand the removal of the protesting migrants and refugees.

At around 22:00, this group was joined by groups of young men from the villages on the island, who were alerted to what was happening by a known far-right militant through the social media. This group launched an organised operation to get past the police, setting fires to bins that they launched at the police officers and used as a shield as they aimed flares, firecrackers and other missiles at the migrants and refugees.

At around 11:00 the attackers attempted a pincer movement, coming at police from Mytilene market, and turned the entire area into a virtual battlefield, with police using tear gas in response. At around 1:00 the clashes had moved to the wharf and surrounding streets, with the militants setting fires to bins, putting up barricades and disrupting traffic throughout the port.

At 3:00 police also removed individuals supporting the migrants and refugees and some locals that were continuing hit-and-run tactics around the square, while coast guard officers pursued 15 unidentified individuals that were seen heading toward the scene with clubs. Meanwhile, the Moria hotspot was put on alert in case anyone attempted to create a diversion there.

Also present at the scene from the start of the incident was the public prosecutor on duty in Mytilene at that time.