Attack on aid workers further exposes tensions on island on the frontline of refugee crisis
A group of doctors who flew to Lesbos to volunteer at the islands infamous Moria migrant camp have described how they were forced to flee after being set upon by a mob wielding nail-headed cudgels.
The attack was the the latest in a series of violent incidents targeting international aid workers, amid an increasingly hostile climate which has prompted several NGOs to withdraw from the Mediterranean island.
We left fearing for our lives, said Dr Victoria Bradley, an Irish GP who was among the medics. It was very, very frightening.
Her voice still cracking from fear and exhaustion, Bradley described how the eight-car convoy she and fellow doctors were travelling in was surrounded by an angry mob as they left Moria, the reception facility where over 22,000 men, women and children are holed up in deplorable conditions.
When we finished the clinic we couldnt take the main road because of blockades and so walked up through the olive groves where some cars came to collect us. Not long after, we were stopped by maybe 50 men with cudgels, large heavy sticks with nails in them. They smashed our windscreen and then one man, a huge man, literally thrust his foot through my [backseat] window and tried to kick my head, said Bradley speaking from the airport in Mytilene, the islands capital.
I dont know how but somehow we managed to drive back to the camp and seek refuge there. Refugees were so kind, they brought us falafels and blankets. We stayed the night in a portable building. It was absolutely freezing. All I could think of was the people in the tents outside.
Bradley had been due to stay on the island for a week, but after the incident on Sunday, the medics decided to withdraw en masse the next day.
The violence has further exposed the explosive tensions on the island, long on the frontline of the refugee crisis and now bracing for a potentially massive influx of asylum-seekers after Turkeys abrupt decision to open its frontiers to millions of people hoping to reach Europe.
NGOs have been increasingly blamed for facilitating the arrival of migrants on Lesbos. Volunteers vehicles have been smashed as suspicion has spread that aid organisations have actively encouraged migratory flows.
On Tuesday authorities reported that an NGO-run warehouse, storing clothes and blankets, had gone up in flames on another Aegean island, Chios. The fire, whose cause remains unknown, broke out at 3.30am.
Police claim to have caught NGO workers red-handed communicating with traffickers on the Turkish coast.
International aid groups are widely attributed with having done immense good at the height of the refugee crisis where almost a million displaced Syrians traversed Lesbos and other Aegean isles en route to Europe.
But five years later, municipal officials admit that locals are growing weary of the crisis.
We do not condone violence of any sort but the fact is people are exasperated, said Mytilenes mayor Stratis Kitilis. There are 27,000 [foreigners] on Lesbos which is almost the population of this town. We welcomed them with open arms when the crisis erupted but now people [across the Aegean] want them to go, they want their island back.
Athens centre-right government has moved to create a protective cordon around the isles in the form of a flotilla of gunships and coast vessels conducting around-the-clock patrols off the Turkish coast.