'There were angry mobs on the road': Irish GP among volunteers attacked on Greek island

'There were angry mobs on the road': Irish GP among volunteers attacked on Greek island
Lesbos. File photo.

An Irish doctor volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece was among a group of volunteers who were attacked by a mob wielding planks of wood and baseball bats last night.

Dr Nicola Cochrane, a GP from Wicklow, has been volunteering at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos.

A mob of angry islanders attacked cars carrying Dr Cochrane and her fellow volunteers from the camp yesterday, smashing the vehicles' windows.

"We were working in the clinic yesterday until 4pm, which is the usual finish time, but the trouble had erupted during the day," Dr Cochrane told Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1.

"Our organisers had arranged some volunteers from some of the other NGOs to help to drive us. There were roadblocks everywhere. Anger was directed towards the ports where there were some boats trying to land with refugees. They were very angry with NGOs, they seem to believe the NGOs were encouraging refugee arrivals.

"We went in five little rental cars driven by predominantly volunteers from Drop in the Ocean down the country roads. As we approached, there were angry mobs on the road, very angry people with a lot of weapons and sticks, some on foot, some on motorbikes and they started to attack the cars. They shattered all the windscreens with big whacks from planks of wood."

Anger on the island comes as people have flocked to the Greek border in Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan tried to put pressure on the European Union by encouraging more refugees to flee to Greece.

Recep Tayip Erdogan
Recep Tayip Erdogan

Dr Cochrane said the local people are overwhelmed by the number of people seeking refuge on the island.

"These are local people. They're living in the little villages around the island. They've been dealing with the refugee crisis here for 10 years. When the refugees started to arrive they were very welcoming and supportive and helpful but as the numbers have gotten bigger the island has been overwhelmed. The tourist industry is completely devastated. The local people are financially living in extreme hardship and they're very upset and distressed and feel unhelped and unsupported.

"You can feel very sympathetic towards them and I can understand how that provokes this level of anger but there's quite a large element of right-wing coming through which is inspiring this. That's not helpful when you've got people living in this kind of environment where they're nearly outnumbered by refugees."

Dr Cochrane said the local police force is quite small and is overwhelmed by the violent incidents.

"We met some police yesterday. There's only a very small number of police here and they were trying very hard to work with the situation. When we finally got away from the main road and stopped a little bit away up the road on a village road two police cars came with four or five policemen. They were stressed and they were tired. They were trying to do anything they could to help but they were being called to about four different locations even while they were talking to us.

They just don't have the resources in the island to deal with this right now. There's not enough police.

She estimated that there are around 14,500 people living in poor conditions in the refugee camp and they are also angry at the way they are being looked after. She said that she felt safe in the camp during the day but there have been violent incidents there at night time, including stabbings.

Dr Cochrane recently arrived at the Moria refugee camp and said she will continue to volunteer at the camp if a system can be created to support volunteers.

"I was prepared to come here for the whole month and I'm still quite happy to stay," she said.

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