The International Organization for Migration voiced concern Thursday following an attack in northern Greece on migrant buses carrying 380 people in what the agency said was an isolated incident.
Despite a police presence, nine buses taking families and vulnerable migrants to hotels in Nea Vrasna were forced to turn back as dozens of villagers blocked the road, hurled stones and chanted ‘close the border’ and ‘throw out illegal migrants,’ according to images broadcast by public television Ert.
The migrants were finally taken to hotels on the island of Eubee, 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the south.
An IOM statement expressed concern ‘about the violent incidents that took place in the area of Vrasna’, calling it ‘an isolated incident’.
The IOM urged government and non-government groups ‘to work together in order to prevent’ similar situations.
Greece has once again become the main point of entry for people seeking asylum in Europe, posing a challenge for the conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis which took over in July.
To clear a huge backlog of over 70,000 asylum claims, the government has drafted a new law toughening requirement and speeding up asylum decisions.
But the UN refugee agency on Thursday voiced concern that the changes ‘weaken refugee protection in the country.’
‘The draft law puts an excessive burden on asylum seekers and focuses on punitive measures. It introduces tough requirements that an asylum seeker could not reasonably be expected to fulfil,’ the agency said.
One provision criticised by the UNHCR excludes families established after people left their country of origin.
In addition, the maximum allowed detention for infractions has been extended from three months to 18, while refugees are called to leave subsidised accommodation within two months, instead of six currently.
Athens wants to swiftly relocate to the mainland 20,000 migrants who are saturating small Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
Local officials have started to push back against the government's plans however, with the suburb of Penteli in the northern outskirts of Athens refusing to take in a group of unaccompanied minors.
People who support the migrants have launched a leaflet campaign, and red paint was splattered on the Penteli town hall early Thursday, Greek media reported.
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