Fates Diverging, Afghan and Syrian Migrants Clash in Greece

Liz Alderman, New York Times, April 8, 2016

Hani Alkhalaf had just fallen asleep at an overcrowded detention camp for migrants on this Greek island when angry shouts jolted him awake. As he rose from the dingy floor, a barrage of stones rained down on the flimsy plastic container where he and 14 other asylum seekers, mostly Syrians like him, were sheltered.

Panicked, the women and children ran into a corner and tried to shield themselves as a mob of Afghan migrants beat on the barricaded door, he recalled later. Tensions had been simmering for days between Afghans and Syrians in the camp, but by midnight last Friday, they had exploded into a riot.

“Afghans are angry because Syrians can get asylum in Europe, and they can’t,” said Mr. Alkhalaf, who left the Syrian capital, Damascus, to escape conflict, only to find himself facing violence after making a perilous journey to Europe. “They are going to have to be deported to Turkey, so they are making trouble.”

Nearly 1,000 Afghans and Syrians tangled during the brawl, which stretched on for six hours before the police intervened. It ended after around 800 migrants broke out of the detention center and marched in protest to the main port of this vacation destination, where many took shelter under slatternly tarps and pup tents on a vast concrete expanse.

The clash was the latest in a series of violent episodes at migrant camps and gathering places across Greece, where more than 52,000 migrants are trapped after Balkan countries shut their borders along the path that migrants had been taking to Germany.

Since a European Union deal with Turkey to stem Europe’s migrant crisis went into effect on March 20, melees between the two nationalities have intensified as the authorities employ a cold calculus to reduce the number of people allowed to stay.

Until recently, Afghans and Syrians were among the groups considered eligible for asylum. But after more than one million people flooded into Europe since last summer, governments abruptly reclassified Afghans in February as economic migrants, dimming their chances of being able to stay in Europe legally, while continuing to favor Syrians for entry, if at a much slower pace.

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