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EU officials booed by Greek island residents over migrant crisis

05 september 2015, 10:24
0

Angry protesters greeted top EU officials visiting the Greek island of Kos on Friday to see the impact of the migrant crisis, as the European Commission's vice-president Frans Timmermans warned that Europe is facing a "moment of truth", AFP reports.

About 20 people, including far-right-activists, booed Timmermans and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who are touring countries on the frontline of a crisis that has seen more than 350,000 people cross the Mediterranean this year in search of new lives in Europe.

Protesters shouted "Traitors!" and "You can't even protect our own borders!" as the officials arrived for a press conference at a town hall on Kos, one of several Greek islands struggling to cope as thousands of people arrive from Turkey.

Some threw eggs in their direction, while others shouted "Get out" and "We don't want a centre for criminality", in a reference to refugee centres.

Timmermans told the press conference that Europe will be left to "the xenophobes, the extremists, who will destroy it" if it fails to help people fleeing war and persecution.

"We are facing a moment of truth in European history," Timmermans said. 

"We can succeed jointly and united, or we can fail each in our own way, in our own country, on our own islands."

Cash-strapped Greece, which has just accepted a huge third international bailout, has seen more than 230,000 people land on its shores this year, many of them Syrian refugees.

Athens has faced criticism over its response to the influx but has repeatedly said it is unable to cope with the scale of the crisis.

Rights group Amnesty International reported that refugees on Kos were attacked in the early hours of Friday by "thugs" with bats, telling them to "go back to their countries".

Amnesty staff witnessed "a violent attack on refugees" by a group of between 15 and 25 people on the island, the group said in a statement, adding that riot police had used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Local police denied they had fired tear gas but said pepper spray had been used earlier that night to break up a crowd of around 1,000 people who gathered outside the police station after a row broke out between Syrian and Iraqi migrants. The migrants had thrown stones at officers, a police source said.

There have been frequent clashes in recent days on the islands between police and migrants, and between migrants themselves.

On Friday morning scuffles broke out among a crowd of hundreds of people hoping to catch a boat from the island of Lesbos to the mainland.

Timmermans said Europe needed to "receive people in a humane fashion", while ensuring the swift return of migrants who are not eligible for asylum.

"A Europe without borders cannot survive in the present conditions," he said. "Our society is built on certain premises of organised solidarity that would be completely undermined if we simply would say everybody can come in."

But he added that Europe also needed to meet its moral and legal obligations to give safe refuge to people fleeing war and persecution.

"If we forget this, we forget who we are and we leave Europe to the xenophobes, the extremists, who will destroy it," he said.


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