Fresh clashes erupted between police and migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos on Tuesday, the latest flashpoint of the crisis shaking Europe as EU President Donald Tusk warned the refugee “exodus” could last for years.
With authorities warning Lesbos was “on the verge of explosion”, a dozen or so coastguards and riot police armed with batons struggled overnight to control some 2,500 migrants in the island’s main port, screaming “keep back” as the crowds surged towards a government-chartered ferry bound for Athens.
The scenes of chaos underscored the difficulty authorities across Europe face as they struggle with a surge of people making a hazardous trek through the continent as they flee war and misery in their home countries.
With other Greek islands close to Turkey also overwhelmed, Tusk insisted “the wave of migration is not a one-time incident but the beginning of a real exodus, which only means that we will have to deal with this problem for many years to come.”
With several EU land borders already at breaking point, Lesbos, home to some 85,000 people, is now also hosting more than 15,000 mainly Syrian migrants arriving on its shores.
As the desperate plight of migrants touches hearts around the world, Britain, France and even South American countries have pledged to accept tens of thousands of refugees crossing the EU`s frontiers almost every day.
Venezuela said it would accept 20,000 — the same number that Britain has promised to take over five years — while Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff declared migrants would be welcomed there with “open arms”, and Chile’s leader Michelle Bachelet said it “was working to take a large number”.
Canada’s Quebec province also said it will take 3,650 this year.
Germany, Europe’s top economy, has said it can take some 500,000 refugees annually for a few years, with Chancellor Angela Merkel saying the influx would result in profound change in the country.”I stayed here eight, nine days — oh my God, I can’t even remember,” said Aleddin, an engineering student hoping to join his brother in Germany, as he languished in Lesbos.
“Some people have been here for 14 or 15 days. The government doesn’t care.”
Hours after another 61 migrants were rescued off the island; junior Greek interior minister Yiannis Mouzalas told To Vima radio the port of “Mytilene currently has 15,000 – 17,000 refugees… The situation is on the verge of explosion.”
Evangelos Meimarakis, leader of Greece’s right-wing New Democracy party which could return to power in this month’s snap election, said the country should strengthen its borders so as not to give “the message that ‘It’s good over here, come over’.”