Greece's Lesbos island 'near explosion' with over 15,000 refugees: minister

Refugees carry a boy after he collapsed as refugees and migrants are packed together for a registration procedure at the port of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos, Greece on Monday.
Refugees carry a boy after he collapsed as refugees and migrants are packed together for a registration procedure at the port of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos, Greece on Monday.PHOTO: EPA

ATHENS (AFP) - The Greek island of Lesbos is "on the verge of explosion" with violence erupting as the more than 15,000 mainly Syrian refugees push local resources to the limit, the immigration minister said Monday.

Yiannis Mouzalas told To Vima radio that boats taking refugees to the Greek mainland would soon be using a second port to ease pressure on the island of 85,000 inhabitants.

"Mytilene currently has 15,000-17,000 refugees and this is the official figure from all services," Mr Mouzalas, a junior interior minister, told the station. "The situation is on the verge of explosion."

A second departure point would open at the fishing village of Sygri in coming days, he said.

Lesbos is one of several Greek islands struggling with an influx of thousands of migrants, many of them Syrian refugees, setting sail from the nearby Turkish coast.

At the island's port capital Mytilene, where most of the migrants gather hoping to catch a boat off the island, they sleep in the open without toilets or showers.

There are no food handouts or drinking water for these temporary visitors in the town itself and in the camps the conditions are little better.

With local authorities overwhelmed - and unwilling, according to critics, to set up a reception system - it is mostly volunteers and humanitarian organisations that have helped provide food and medical care to the refugees, who often arrive with their extended families.

"We hope that in the next five days the (islanders) and the refugees will see clear signs of improvement," Mr Mouzalas said.

Lesbos mayor Spyros Galinos on Saturday urged island residents to boycott national elections on September 20 in protest at the refugee buildup.

"We call on the people of Lesbos not to take part in the upcoming elections and we state our intention not to cast ballots unless immediate measures are taken to de-escalate the situation," Mr Galinos said in a statement.

Clashes have broken out on Lesbos in recent days between police and migrants, and between migrants of different nationalities, over delays in the registration process that have held up their journey on to other countries in Europe.

On Sunday, police reinforcements were sent to the island after Syrian refugees were targeted with Molotov cocktails.

Two 17-year-old boys were arrested after throwing two Molotov cocktails at refugees sleeping in a park, injuring a Syrian man in the process.

Syrians have been granted priority in the registration process, sparking tensions with other migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other war-torm impoverished nations forced into long waits on the island.

More than 230,000 people have landed on Greek shores this year, with the numbers soaring in recent weeks as people seek to take advantage of the calm summer weather.

The Greek state has chartered a ferry, the Eleftherios Venizelos, to transport refugees from the islands to the mainland.

Some 15,000 have been taken to Athens over the last week, including 2,500 on Monday.

"There is a big problem there (Lesbos), there are many Syrians there, maybe eight thousand people. The government cannot give them their papers to come here," Nader, a 42-year-old salesman from northern Syria, said after arriving at the port of Piraeus.

Mouzalas said another ship would be chartered for this purpose, but hundreds more arrive on a daily basis from the neighbouring Turkish coast.