ATHENS - Police on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday said they had arrested seven people on suspicion of planning attacks on migrants in the wake of anti-camp demonstrations this week.
Police said five Greeks and two foreigners between the ages of 17 and 24 were arrested Thursday night outside the Moria migrant camp, the largest camp for asylum-seekers in the Greek islands. They were in possession of several homemade wooden bats, a metal rod and a full-face hood, police said.
"An investigation showed that the suspects had banded together to carry out illegal acts mainly against foreign migrants," the police said in a statement. Two more minors are sought in connection with the case.
Overpopulation in migrant camps on Lesbos and other islands near Turkey has led to an outpouring of anger in recent days, with locals accusing asylum-seekers of stealing livestock and damaging agricultural property.
On Monday, hundreds of migrants on Lesbos staged a protest against tougher new asylum rules and camp conditions, demanding to be allowed to leave. Asylum-seekers have repeatedly staged demonstrations to demand transfers to mainland Greece.
Island residents meanwhile have held protests and a strike to press the same demand for the removal of migrants. When some of the migrant protesters neared the village of Moria on Monday, close to Greece's largest migrant camp, residents called on the police to deny them entry.
Tear gas was fired to keep the migrants from entering the island capital of Mytilene.
In the following days, news reports and social media said local residents had formed vigilante patrols to intimidate migrants and NGO groups supporting them.
In 2019, Greece became the first port of entry for migrants and refugees entering Europe, many fleeing war or poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Syria.
Under a 2016 deal between the European Union and Turkey, refugees and migrants who arrive on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast are held there pending deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.
Long delays in the asylum application process has led to major overcrowding in the camps. Greece's 7-month-old government has struggled to manage the influx, keeping many people in overcrowded camps on the Aegean Greek islands near the Turkish coast. It has vowed to speed up the handling of asylum requests and to increase the number of deportations to reduce the number of people living in the camps.
At Moria, where more than 19,000 people live in and outside a camp built for fewer than 3,000, many are housed in tents and makeshift shelters without access to power, heating, or hot water.
More than 36,000 asylum-seekers are currently crammed into camps on five islands, where the official capacity is for 6,200 people and in conditions repeatedly condemned by aid agencies.