Refugee Centre Catches Fire On Greek Island Of Lesbos

The refugee centre on the Greek island of Lesbos has caught fire, damaging a warehouse of furniture and electrical appliances, but causing no injuries.

Speaking anonymously to The Associated Press, a fireman from the island reported that the investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.  Last Monday a reception centre was intentionally set ablaze on the island, although the culprits have not been found.

This comes amid times of rising tension on the island, already home to at least 19,000 refugees in a camp which was designed to hold less than 3,000 people.  Lesbos has been experiencing another rapid influx of refugees after Turkey briefly opening the doors for refugees to move into Europe, a move which has been heavily criticized by the EU.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayip Erdogan, is accused by the EU of using migrants for political purposes, as many feel the brief (one-sided) opening of the borders was a tactical move to put diplomatic pressure on the EU.  This is partly because recent conflicts in Idlib, Syria, has again triggered more Syrians to flee the country in pursuit of asylum.

The reaction on the Turkish-Greek border has been violent, with rocks and tear gas being exchanged across the high metal fence which sits on the border.  A BBC video shows migrants holding up cardboard signs across the border reading “We want to live in peace only” and “We want just to croos [cross]”.

The situation is increasingly worsening for both migrants and locals on Lesbos.  The locals have suffered economically, and many feel uncomfortable at the fact that they are now outnumbered by refugees.  Whilst some are sympathetic to the refugees and their poor living conditions, others are becoming dangerously unwelcoming – it is highly likely that the recent fire has something to do with this.

For refugees living on Lesbos, the situation is becoming increasingly dire.  Practically, there is a lack of clothing, tents, and food.  The situation is also becoming worse for the mental wellbeing of migrants.  The backlog of applications for asylum means that many feel hopeless about their futures leaving the island.  Child Psychologist Angela Modarelli recently visited the camps and has seen an increase in the numbers of young people attempting self-harm.  Speaking to the BBC, she said that “Normally a child, when they experience something traumatic, has to have the time and space to recover.  More [the main camp] does not allow children to recover”.  She comments that concerning behaviours such as head-banging and hair-pulling can be seen in younger children at the camp, and self-harm such as cutting is rising among teenagers.

The situation on Lesbos is a prime example of the failures of governments to support their own civilians and to respond adequately to the humanitarian crisis.  Increased international coverage of the refugee crisis is vital for pressuring actors involved to better meet the needs of those living on Lesbos.

Grace Bridgewater