December 19, 2019 / 10:57 AM / 8 months ago

Greek police fire tear gas at migrants on island of Samos

Smoke from tear gas canisters rises next to a camp for refugees and migrants, during clashes between migrants and riot police, on the island of Samos, Greece, December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Samiaki TV

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police on Thursday fired tear gas at migrants protesting against their detention and living conditions in a migrant camp on the northern Aegean island of Samos, officials said.

About 300 people, mostly Africans, rallied outside the camp in Vathy demanding to be allowed to leave the island, a police official said. The official said there were brief clashes between police and protesters.

The facility has room for up to 650 people but it operates far beyond its capacity, like most such camps in Greece.

Human rights organizations have long criticized Greece, which was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million people fleeing conflict in 2015-16, for its handling of the migrant crisis and its overcrowded camps.

Greece continues to be on the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis and has seen a resurgence of arrivals through Turkey this year.

The conservative government, elected in July, has taken a tougher stance compared to its leftist predecessor, which it blames for adopting what it says is an “open door” policy towards arrivals.

The government, which has also classed most recent arrivals as economic migrants rather than refugees, has announced plans to shut overcrowded refugee camps on Aegean islands and replace them with restrictive holding centers to process new arrivals.

It plans to move up to 20,000 people to the mainland by the end of the year and expects new facilities will be ready by July 2020.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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