Police and migrants faced off Thursday as Greek authorities started evacuating one of the last refugee camps in Athens, officials said, with videos showing authorities using tear gas and a flash grenade.
The attempted eviction of the Eleonas camp, which hosts around 670 refugees and migrants, started at around 5:00 a.m. local time.
Police were seen removing barricades residents had built around the gates of the camp in anticipation of the clearance operation.
Migrants and activists clashed with riot police, who used tear gas and a flash grenade to push back protestors, according to videos posted by activists at the scene.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Twitter Thursday that the government was “proceeding with the closure of the Eleonas camp” as part of an upgrade of the area and with places available in other areas.
“Unfortunately, a small group of migrants and solidarity groups are trying to disrupt the move,” Mitarachi said.
Many of the residents are reluctant to leave Eleonas, near central Athens, since it has relatively good living conditions and residents can freely come and go, unlike in other camps.
Authorities on Thursday said they managed to remove only a couple of dozen people, mostly to the last remaining camp in Athens in the outskirts of the city.
An official at the migration ministry told AFP that all the migrants who were transferred had consented, and that the evacuation process from Eleonas will be completed by the end of the year.
Eleonas was the first camp to open in mainland Greece in August 2015.
Several officials from around the world have visited the camp in efforts to gauge the migration situation in Greece, including ex-French president Francois Hollande and the president of the European parliament Roberta Metsola.
Greece is often the country of choice for people fleeing Africa and the Middle East to try to reach a better life in the European Union.
Thousands come to Greece via Turkey over the narrow and perilous sea crossing separating the traditional enemies.
Charity groups have accused Athens of illegally turning back migrants -- something Greece’s conservative government has denied.