Residents on two Greek islands clashed with police on Tuesday over the building of new migrant detention camps.
Crowds attempted to stop police from disembarking on the islands of Lesbos and Chios, to disrupt the work that will see new camps built at the busiest entry point for illegal migration in the European Union.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, and protesters set fire to bins as they tried to block access to the port area on Lesbos.
Police on Chios also used tear gas and flash grenades. At least three people were treated in the hospital for breathing difficulties caused by the extensive use of tear gas, local officials said.
The government says it will move ahead with plans to build the new facilities and has promised to replace existing camps where severe overcrowding has worsened in recent months.
Many island residents as well as local authorities vehemently argue the migrants and asylum seekers should be moved to the Greek mainland.
The standoff between police and protesters continued later in the day near the areas where the new camps will be built, as police cordoned off areas around roadblocks set up over the past few days by demonstrators on the two islands.
“We understand that there is a problem of trust that was created over the previous years,'' government spokesman Stelios Petsas told state-run TV. “But the closed facilities will be built and we are calling on the public to support this.''
Petsas claimed that the government was also compelled to act due to heightened concerns over the widening coronavirus outbreak, arguing that proper health checks could not be carried out at existing overcrowded camps.
Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees arrived on Greek islands last year, almost double the number recorded in 2018, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.