Greek refugee shelter in Lesbos engulfed in flames amid migrant crisis

‘The school building is fully burned, some other smaller buildings too, our offices as well,’ says centre

Kate Ng
Sunday 08 March 2020 11:49 GMT
A police officer stands guard next to the burning premises of the community centre of NGO "One Happy Family" on the island of Lesbos, Greece
A police officer stands guard next to the burning premises of the community centre of NGO "One Happy Family" on the island of Lesbos, Greece

A massive fire caused significant damage to a refugee shelter on the Greek island of Lesbos as tensions continue to mount over the ongoing refugee crisis.

The One Happy Family (OHF) centre confirmed the fire had “fully burned” down the shelter’s school building and offices on Saturday night. No casualties were reported.

It is unclear how the fire began, but it comes as Greece announced further restrictions on asylum seekers attempting to cross from Turkey into the EU.

The centre said in a statement on Facebook: “Dear all, unfortunately there has been a fire on OHF ground this evening. The fire brigade and the police [are] there, our team on the ground as well. The fire has been put off, but the damage is big.

“The school building is fully burned, some other smaller buildings too, our offices as well. No one got hurt, but we can’t say more at the moment. Thank you for your solidarity.”

At the Greece-Turkey border, refugees clashed with Greek police on Saturday after trying to pull down a fence and hurling rocks at authorities, who responded by firing teargas at the group.

More than 38,000 refugees were stopped from attempting to cross the border, said Greek authorities, and 268 people were arrested.

The Greek government said in a statement that around 600 people, alongside the Turkish army and military police, also threw teargas at the Greek side of the border overnight.

It added: “Attempts at illegal entry into Greek territory were prevented by Greek forces, which repaired the fence and used sirens and loudspeakers.”

The crisis deepened after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced last week that Turkey could no longer cope with over 3.5 million Syrian refugees in the country and declared its previously guarded border with Europe open.

Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told CNN that Europe “cannot be blackmailed” by Turkey, who is using refugees and migrants as “geopolitical pawns”.

He said: “Greece has demonstrated its humanity throughout this crisis but what we are not willing to do is engage in a process where another country – systematically – uses and exploits these people in an attempt to send them across the border.

“I don’t see why we should be accused of something we have publicly said we will do. We have every right to protect our borders and that is exactly what we are doing.”

Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, accused Greek authorities of mistreating refugees on Saturday and claimed some 1,000 Turkish special operations police deployed on the border started to thwart the actions of Greek law enforcement teams assembled to drive migrants back.

He said: “Their masks have fallen. The ruthlessness of those who gave lectures on humanity has become evident.”

On Friday, the EU chief of foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, urged refugees in Turkey not to go to the border because it is a “closed door”, and warned countries involved to “stop this game”.

In his appeal, he said: “The news of the alleged openness [of the border] is false and people should not try to move there.

“If we want to avoid critical situations, people have to know the truth. Let’s stop this game.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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