Detained migrants in Greece attack guards

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Greece’s Presidential Guard march past the ancient Parthenon temple on the Acropolis Hill in Athens, Greece, Aug. 8, 2013. AP

ATHENS — A protest by migrants detained at a facility northeast of Athens because they entered the country illegally has ended and the detainees have returned to their rooms, police said Sunday.

Officers on motorbikes continued to comb the surrounding area for escapees but there were no signs of a breach at the detention center itself, according to a police announcement. There are about 1,700 migrants at the facility.

The protest started when some detainees attacked guards at nightfall Saturday as dinner was being served. According to police, the attack on the guards was unprovoked. The detainees also set fire to their bedding and some of the containers that housed them.

Police said at least 10 prison guards were injured, none of them seriously. It was not clear if any detainees were injured.

Shortly after midnight, riot police entered the camp and used chemicals and stun grenades to quell the protest. About an hour later, detainees had returned to their rooms.

Police said that the main cause for the protest was the announcement to the detainees that maximum detention time at the camp was to be increased from 12 to 18 months. Also, electricity had been cut due to maintenance work, leaving the containers without air conditioning.

Detainees have often complained about conditions at the camp, including overcrowding, with some staging a hunger strike earlier this month.

The camp is one of several around Greece, officially called “closed hospitality centers.”

At the end of their detention, the undocumented migrants are deported, or, more rarely, freed and granted asylum.

Greece, a country with very few recorded migrants until the early 90s has in recent years seen a large influx of undocumented migrants, with tens of thousands entering the country, mainly from the east, crossing through Turkey. The estimated number of migrants varies, but it is generally believed to be well over a million in a country of 11 million. The earlier wave of migrants, mostly from neighboring Albania, has been replaced by arrivals from Afghanistan, south Asia and Africa. The increased presence of migrants has produced a backlash, with a formerly marginal extreme right organization Golden Dawn entering Parliament for the first time last year and attracting a double-digit following in most recent opinion polls, making it the third largest party in Greece.

Over the last year, the government has contacted several sweeps against undocumented migrants, arresting some 5,000. It has also made integration of migrants difficult through a lengthy process of granting residency and the refusal to grant automatic citizenship to Greek-born children of migrants.

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