Fire Damages Greek Island Refugee Centre Amid Tensions

On Saturday March 7, a fire broke out at a refugee centre located on the Greek island of Lesbos. Greece’s firefighting service stated on Sunday that no injuries or casualties have been reported. However, significant damage to a warehouse containing various furniture and electrical appliances has been sustained. The installation, called One Happy Family, was a Swiss-operated family care centre in Lesbos for refugees. This is the second reported fire at an installation designed for migrants, after a migrant reception center was burned down by unidentified culprits last Monday. Lesbos, a city located only a few miles from the Turkish coast, is estimated to currently house 21,000 migrants. 

The event takes place amid tense relations between Turkey and the European Union. The crisis escalated after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared he would no longer prohibit the entry of migrants and refugees into other EU countries earlier this month. The announcement brought upon millions of migrants and refugees on Turkish territory, and thousands gathering on the Greek border. Since then, migrants have been living in makeshift camps along the border in a desperate plea to enter Greece. 

Greece has since deployed border guards and riot police in response, ensuing violent clashes between both parties. According to Greek authorities, over 38,000 refugees were stopped. Greek security had also resorted to firing tear gas in an attempt to contain migrant flow, evoking Turkish officials into firing tear gas back. Last Sunday, migrant youths threw rocks at Greek security, and several attempted to break down border fences, injuring at least two migrants in the process. 

Erdogan is currently asking Greece to open its borders to permit migrants to move into other nations. Giving a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan asked Greece, “Why don’t you open your gates too, let them go to other nations and rid yourself of this burden.” 

President Erdogan traveled the following Monday in order to discuss with EU officials regarding a 2016 Turkey-EU agreement on containing refugee flows to Europe – that has since disintegrated. The deal had outlined Turkey to put a stop to Europe-bound migration. In exchange, Turkey would receive $6.7 billion in aid for Syrian refugees on Turkish territory, fast-track EU membership, and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to Europe. Both parties have accused each other of failing to honor their commitments on multiple occasions.

Erdogan has called on Europe to do their part of housing refugees, firmly stating that Turkey, which currently shelters over 3.5 million refugees, would no longer serve as Europe’s gatekeeper. Moreover, Erdogan has accused the EU of failing to provide the money. This announcement unsurprisingly drew significant criticism from other EU nations, with some even accusing Erdogan of spinning the current migrant crisis for political purposes. The EU is currently still dealing with the repercussions from the wave of mass migration that occurred in 2015.