The mayor of a small and distant island designated by the Greek government to be a receiving center for migrants fleeing violence in the Middle East is pleading with officials to revise that plan. The mayor says he fears that if a proposed registration center for refugees is actually built, it will incite violence among locals who have already begun to protest its construction.
Kos is one of several Greek islands sprinkled throughout the Mediterranean Sea, and is geographically much closer to Turkey than its mother nation. Of the more than 4 million refugees who have fled Syria amid ongoing conflict centered around the growing influence of the Islamic State group, roughly 2 million have landed in Turkey.
At the behest of the European Union, Kos and four other Greek islands had been identified by the Greek government as likely entry points for migrants, and officials had planned to construct a registration center on each island in order to better monitor the flow of newcomers and welcome them to settle down.
However, Mayor Yiorgos Kyritsis of Kos sent a letter to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday asking that Kos be exempt from those plans, citing escalating tension between police and locals.
Already, three residents were injured in a fight with police near the proposed site of the registration center in which officers used tear gas to dispel an angry crowd of around 100 people. A separate and unverified report suggests four law enforcement officials may have been harmed, as well. About 31,000 people live on Kos.
If the plan were to proceed as originally stated, Kyritsis warned of “uncontrollable protests” by residents opposed to an influx of migrants, the French news agency Agence France-Presse reported. As a compromise, he has instead suggested that migrants be made to register on Kos but encouraged to move quickly along.
One of residents’ main concerns is that a growing migrant population will make Kos less attractive to tourists. Tourism is the island’s primary industry and source of revenue.