Asylum seekers acquitted over Greek island camp protest

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More than 100 asylum seekers were acquitted by a court on the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday for protesting against overcrowded camp conditions.

The mainly Afghan asylum seekers were accused of occupying a central square on the island in April last year.

Along with women and children, they staged a sit-in that was swiftly attacked by far-right militants who threw stones and flares, with riot police deployed to keep the two sides apart.

Among the attackers, 26 have been provisionally identified by police. Their trial date has not yet been set.

“We didn’t do anything. We were attacked by some extreme people. We are innocent,” one of the defendants, Afghan refugee Hadisse Hosseini, told AFP outside the courthouse.

Defense lawyer Elli Kriona Saranti welcomed the court’s ruling, saying the “charges were unfounded.”

However, she expressed concern that the suspected attackers had not faced trial, saying it was “a situation that fosters impunity on the island.”

More than 70,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece following a mass influx from 2015 onwards. Most were fleeing war-torn Syria and want to go to wealthier EU states such as Germany.

Of these, some 15,000 are housed in badly overcrowded camps on Greek islands where living conditions have been repeatedly criticized by rights groups.

Conditions are worst on the islands of Lesbos and Samos, where more than 10,000 people live in camps built to handle just a third of that number.

Municipal officials estimate there are about 7,000 refugees and migrants on Lesbos, about a quarter of the population of the island’s capital Mytilene.