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Society

Refugees, Migrants Stopped from Landing on Lesbos, Camp Set on Fire

March 3, 2020

Weary of having their island used for a refugee and migrant detention center holding some 20,000 of them, residents of Lesbos – who had once greeted them – instead gathered along the coast to keep out more trying to arrive from Turkey.

At the same time, a migrant camp was set on fire, said Kathimerini, at a makeshift reception area for asylum-seekers at Skala Sykamias on the northern coast. It had been set up by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to temporarily host asylum seekers landing on the island, before their transfer to the Moria camp that has been the scene of growing violence over delayed asylum application processing and between ethnic groups.

Residents also blocked buses carrying refugees and migrants from getting to the Moria camp that is so bad the BBC called it “the worst in the world” and human rights groups and activists complained to no avail that conditions there are inhumane.

At the port of Thermi, about 50 migrants, including several minors, were not allowed to land, the report said, while protesters spewed abuse at the local representative of UNHCR, one of the main operators aiding refugees and migrants.

“Go back to Turkey,” a group of hooded individuals reportedly shouted.

Outside the Moria camp, the crowd gathered to prevent further arrivals, joined by the mayor and Member of Parliament of the ruling New Democracy, said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA.)

The islanders want the Moria camp to shut down and its residents transferred to the mainland and they oppose the seizing of private property to build a new center aimed at vetting those deemed ineligible for asylum.

The crisis worsened when Turkey opened its borders with Greece to let refugees and migrants, who had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands and were trying to reach the European Union, get across.

That was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers in an area of northern Syria that Turkey had invaded, and as he blamed the EU for not living up to its end of a 2016 swap deal in which Turkey was supposed to hold back people trying to reach Europe and to take back those who didn’t get sanctuary.

While the Greek police and army were concentrated on the northern land border along the Evros River, hundreds more refugees and migrants were landing on Greek islands near the Turkish coast, especially Lesbos, the favored destination.

The Turkish Coast Guard did nothing to pick the boats intercepted by Greek Coast Guard, said Kathimerini, reporting that 16 boats made their way to Greek shores.

The burned facility was recently shut down following a decision by the West Lesbos municipal council although the mayor said it would be temporarily re-opened to host newly-arrived women and children.

The West Lesbos municipality condemned the arson attack, while urging residents to “remain calm and united.”

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