Belgium has repatriated its hotspots personnel in the Greek islands, out of security concerns. The European Commission said that the security at hotspots is the responsibility of the Greek government.
On 16 November, the Belgian press announced that the country’s State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Theo Franken, had ordered the repatriation of the Belgians due to security concerns.
The same day, the Greek press reported incidents of unrest and arson at the hotspot on Chios. Greek police are reported to have arrested 37 migrants, and a number of persons injured.
According to police sources quoted by Kathimerini, the trouble began late on Wednesday when refugee allegedly looted two local stores, stealing liquor and fireworks. They are then alleged to have let off the fireworks close to the camp, startling nearby residents. Later, according to police, a group of around 100 migrants set up a roadblock near the reception center and started throwing stones and fireworks at nearby police units. Riot police officers responded by raiding the premises.
Volunteers working with migrants on the island gave a different version of events, however, claiming that members of far-right groups attacked the hotspot, pelting it with stones, provoking the migrants to retaliate. Riot police then stormed the center to restore order.
It was the third time in the past month that rioting and fires have damaged the hotspot. Last week many of the tents in the center were flooded following heavy rain.
Asked to comment on the developments, Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said that the EU executive was aware of the incident in Chios, and reiterated that the security at hotspots is the responsibility of the Greek authorities.
She added that the European Commission was aware of the concerns about the security of staff working for the EU asylum office (EASO) in the Greek hotspots. She said that Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos had addressed a letter to the Greek migration minister Yannis Mouzalas on 4 November, saying member states needed reassurances that everything is being done to guarantee the security of their experts. He also reportedly asked Greece “to urgently improve the situation”.
EASO itself has taken measures to improve the security by hiring additional guards in all the hotspots and improving the security infrastructure and equipment, Bertaud said.
Asked if other countries were contemplating withdrawing their personnel, the Commission spokesperson said she didn’t have such information. There is a shortage of 44 experts on the Greek islands, she added.
EU justice and home affairs of the EU’s 28 countries meet today in Brussels, and the security situation at the Greek hotspots is likely to be discussed.