Migrant children tear-gassed by Greek police
Fizzy drinks were used to wash the tear gas out of the children’s eyes after police used the riot-control gas on the peaceful demonstration.
Soft drinks, like Coca-Cola, are acidic along with lemon juice and vinegar and can ease the pain of tear gas.
Approximately 2,000 migrants marched out of the Moria camp on Lesbos – one of the closest Greek islands to the Turkish mainland – to protest in the island’s main town, Mytiline. They were blocked by police outside the town.
Moria is a former military base, built with a capacity of approximately 2,300. But 19,541 migrants are currently housed in the camp, forcing many to camp in the surrounding olive groves.
The new right-wing government in Athens said it would reduce numbers on the island by replacing camps with holding centres to process arrivals and those with rejected asylum applications.
Under the European Union migration agreement, almost all migrants entering Greece illegally are due to be deported to Turkey unless granted asylum. The legal procedure has kept thousands in Greek camps for over a year.
Franziska Grillmeier, a German journalist on Lesbos, said: “There was a lot of tear gas, it was constant. Fires broke out in the olive groves and firemen had to be called. Everybody who was there was tear-gassed, including babies and small children.
“Children were crying and in panic – they couldn’t catch their breath, they had respiratory problems.
“The parents brought their babies and kids on the march because there are no safe spaces in the camp in which to leave them.”
Arrivals continue to outnumber those being forced to return to Turkey. On Monday 92 arrivals were reported in Lesbos while 12 people were sent to Turkey.
“A significant backlog of pending applications and serious delays in asylum procedures have been a major contributing factor to the dangerously overcrowded conditions we see on the islands,” said Boris Cheshirkov of the UNHRC, the United Nations’ refugee agency. “Long waiting times are also contributing to the mental toll that people are facing.”
Greece faces a backlog of nearly 90,000 asylum applications, Cheshirkov added.
Greek migration minister Notis Mitarakis has pledged to step up deportations this month.
Last year there were more than 74,000 arrivals in Greece, of which 3,500 were children, the UNHCR reported.
The Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos see the most arrivals.
Last week, Greece opened bids to construct a floating barrier around Lesbos to deter illegal migration.
Lesbos is on the frontline of the migrant crisis. Picture credit: Flickr