Derelict Greek Olympic venues reopened to house migrants

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Hundreds of migrants have set up tents on Victoria Square in Athens, on September 30, 2015

Hundreds of migrants have set up tents on Victoria Square in Athens, on September 30, 2015 (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki)

Athens (AFP) - Greek authorities on Thursday hastily reopened a derelict sports hall from the Athens 2004 Olympics to house hundreds of migrants who were sleeping on the streets of the capital.

City buses took more than 400 mainly-Afghan migrants from central Victoria Square to the Galatsi indoor hall.

A few days earlier, a similar operation ferried migrants to the Hellenikon hockey centre in southern Athens.

"I ask residents to be patient... Victoria Square will be cleared," Yiannis Mouzalas, the junior interior minister in charge of migration, told reporters on the scene.

"We are trying to reduce pressure on the local population so that it will maintain the stance of solidarity it has shown until now," he said.

"We do not want them to become susceptible to far-right, racist and xenophobic views."

Hundreds of mainly Afghan migrants had set up tents on Victoria Square in recent days, and a late-night brawl broke out on Tuesday, prompting protests from the city of Athens and local residents.

Around the square, shops closed their doors on Thursday and locals staged a protest to demand that the camp be dismantled.

"We are not racist but (a migrant camp) is not what the square is for," one man told Skai TV.

Members of an anti-racist group staged a counter-protest to demand housing for the migrants.

"We cannot work miracles but the situation will improve," Mouzalas promised.

Greece is the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly Syrian, who are seeking to travel west, triggering Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 310,000 people have arrived in Greece from neighbouring Turkey.

As refugees, Syrians are allowed to swiftly move northwards to other EU states but other migrants have remained blocked in Greece.

Ferries from the islands continually bring more migrants to the port of Piraeus in Athens with another 2,500 landing on Thursday morning.

Athens in August opened a short-stay reception camp with a capacity of around 700, but more facilities are needed.

Mayor George Kaminis has called on the government to permit the use of disused army camps around the country.

"There are abandoned army camps in greater Athens and all over Greece," he told Skai this week.

"It's inexcusable to have empty camps and squares full (of migrants)," he said.