Hundreds of refugees have died making the perilous journey to safety in Europe (AFP)
Vandals have damaged a memorial on the Greek island of Lesbos to refugees who lost their lives trying to reach safety in Europe, rights groups said on Thursday.
Black paint was poured on the memorial, which was erected in 2013 on the east coast of Lesbos after 20 refugees drowned trying to reach the island in the winter of 2012.
In 2015, hundreds more would die in the Aegean Sea as over a million people – mainly fleeing the Syrian civil war – crossed to Greece from Turkey.
'One can only wonder what the perpetrators were thinking of, insulting the memory of people who were so unjustly lost'
– Iva Vougiouka-Frangou, head of local support group
The vandalism, apparently carried out on Saturday, was reported to rights groups by a local fisherman.
"One can only wonder what the perpetrators were thinking of, insulting the memory of people who were so unjustly lost," Iva Vougiouka-Frangou, head of a local support group, told AFP.
Marily Stroux, head of the Welcome 2 Europe association that created the memorial, said the act would not discourage their efforts to raise awareness for the dangers facing refugees.
"We have gathered here every year since 2013 to renew our promise that we will not stop fighting until the deaths end," Stroux said.
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The presence of over 15,800 refugees and economic migrants in overcrowded camps on the Greek islands have raised protests from local communities and authorities.
But the vandalism should not tarnish Lesbos's overall reputation, argued Michalis Bakas, a local Greens politician.
"Our island was tested under difficult circumstances and passed the test of solidarity," said Bakas, referring to last year's Nobel Peace Prize nomination for islanders who came to the refugees' aid.
MEE this week reported on protests by refugees over the conditions in which they were being held.
Tensions boiled over as security forces quashed late-night riots by refugee youth at the island's notorious camp at Moria, days after police officers themselves protested against the facility's dangerous work environment. Moria now holds over 6,000 people, more than triple its capacity.