Fire Tears Through Warehouse at Greek Island Refugee Detention Camp

March 9, 2020

LESBOS, Greece – A refugee center warehouse on the island of Lesbos used for education and recreation for thousands of people detained there two years and more was destroyed by a fire that caused about 100,000 euros ($112,865) damage but no injuries.

It wasn’t reported how it was started but the blaze happened as island officials and residents are fiercely fighting plans by the ruling New Democracy to build new detention centers to vet those deemed ineligible for asylum.

Lesbos houses the notorious Moria camp which is holding more than 18,000 people in a facility designed for one-sixth that and with another 2,000 or so spilling over into tents outside also housing families with children.

The warehouse, which contained furniture and electrical appliances, was completely destroyed, a firefighting service spokesman told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, because an investigation as to the causes of the fire is ongoing.

The center has been operated by the Swiss “One Happy Family” NGO since February 2017.

This is the second fire breaking out at an installation built for migrants, after a reception center was burned down March 2.

The blaze got attention outside Greece with the BBC reporting on the growing hostility on an island that had been praised for its generosity toward refugees and migrants when they started pouring in from Turkey in 2015, where people had first gone fleeing war and strife and economic misery in their homelands, even bringing a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Greeks who aided the new arrivals.

Hundreds of migrants have attempted to reach the island since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the gates for refugees and migrants to leave, violating the terms of an already essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union.

The bloc had closed its doors to refugees and migrants with other countries reneging on pledges to help take some of the overload that flooded Greece during its long-running economic and austerity crisis that is only now alleviating.

Erdogan said the refugees and migrants – Turkey had already allowed human traffickers to keep sending them to Greek islands – could leave after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an area of Syra they had invaded.

That led Erdogan to say it could bring another surge to his country he didn’t want to deal with and said they could go to Greece, which responded by closing its border along the Evros River where thousands have continued to mass in a standoff between the countries.

Greek police fired tear gas at crowds at the border crossing at Kastanies, who responded by throwing stones and shouting “open the gates,” reported Agence France-Presse, as Greek officials said Turkish police fired tear gas across the border at Greek police.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said the government, which had suspended asylum applications, would also end financial benefits for those who had gotten sanctuary, saying they “will have to work for a living,” and not get handouts.

“This makes our country a less attractive destination for migration flows,” he said.

The BBC said it discovered members of self-styled militias who carry out night-time armed patrols in Greek border towns looking for migrants.

“There are such militia along the entire region,” said Yannis Laskarakis, a newspaper publisher in the city of Alexandroupoli who received death threats for speaking out against armed vigilantes, the news agency said.
“We have seen them with our own eyes, arresting migrants, treating them badly and if someone dares to help them, he has the same fate.”


ATHENS - Four years after the COVID-19 pandemic shut international travel and kept tourists away from Greece, the government now wants  to limit how many cruise ships can dock at popular islands because there are too many tourists.

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