ATHENS (AFP) - Greek officials and residents from islands harbouring thousands of asylum-seekers staged a protest in Athens on Thursday (Feb 13) against plans to build new camps.
Dozens of demonstrators from the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos gathered outside the Greek interior ministry, brandishing banners against the camps project.
The new conservative government that came to power in July has announced that the present camps, which are stretched several times beyond capacity, are to shut down this year.
They will be replaced with new, smaller facilities that are to be operational by mid-2020.
But the initiative has been opposed by authorities and residents on the five Aegean islands with camp facilities, which include Leros and Kos.
The islanders demand the immediate removal of most of the asylum-seekers.
After weeks of talks with local officials, the government this week caused further anger by announcing that land could be requisitioned for a three-year period to build the new facilities.
"Talks cannot continue indefinitely...the time for decisions has come," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told state TV ERT on Wednesday, adding that landowners would be compensated.
"We are ready to do everything to find peaceful solutions, provided the government abandons these (requisition) methods," northern Aegean regional governor Constantinos Moutzouris told Alpha TV.
The government has said the new camps will be designed to accommodate 20,000 asylum-seekers for a maximum of three months at a time.
The camps on the five islands to be shut down currently house more than 38,000 people in dire conditions that have been repeatedly castigated by rights groups and the Council of Europe.
They have a nominal capacity of just 6,200.