Helena Smith in Athens
Tuesday 20 September 2016 08.14 EDT
Tuesday 20 September 2016 08.14 EDT
Thousands of refugees detained at one of Greece’s biggest camps, on the island of Lesbos, have fled the facility amid scenes of mayhem after some reportedly set fire to it on Monday.
Up to 4,000 panic-stricken men, women and children rushed out of the installation, which is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, following rumours of mass deportations to Turkey.
“Between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants have fled the camp of Moria,” a police source said, attributing the exodus to fires that rapidly swept through the facility because of high winds.
No one was reported to have been injured in the blaze. But damage was widespread with more than 90 tents and dozens of prefabricated housing units going up in flames and vast numbers of refugees losing their meagre belongings to the inferno. By Tuesday witnesses described the camp as resembling a war zone.
As the scale of the destruction became apparent, the Greek government prepared to dispatch two ferryboats to host detainees in the island’s port until other accommodation could be found. Close to 100 unaccompanied minors, who had controversially been housed at the overcrowded centre, were to be evacuated to a camp on the mainland, officials said.
Greece’s citizen protection minister, Nikos Toskas, said outside aid was also vital.
“The Europeans have to send us real [help] not five blankets that they call ‘international solidarity’,” he said on Greek radio, complaining that non-governmental organisations, the recipient of €80m (£69m) in EU funds so far, had failed to use the money properly. “To a great degree, they did not correspond to what they had promised the EU [when] it gave them the money.”
The riots are believed to have been fuelled by frustration over the notoriously slow pace with which asylum requests were being processed. A rumour, earlier in the day, that Greek authorities were preparing to send possibly hundreds back to Turkey – in an attempt to placate mounting frustration in Germany over the long delays – was enough to spark the protests.
About 300 migrants who attempted to march on the island’s capital, were rounded up by police, according to local news sites.
Human rights groups have criticised conditions in Moria and an estimated 50 detention centres elsewhere in Greece as deplorable and depraved.
The increase in arrivals in recent months from Turkey – the launch pad for more than a million Europe-bound refugees last year – has added to the pressure on Greek authorities.
On Monday, the government announced that 60,352 refugees and migrants were registered in Greece, essentially ensnared by the closure of borders along the Balkan corridor into Europe. About 13,536 were detained on Aegean islands, including Lesbos which has borne the brunt of the influx.
The detention centre at Moria has capacity to house no more than 3,000 but is said to be holding almost twice that number following the uptick and amid fears the EU-Turkey deal – agreed earlier this year to staunch the flows – could be on the verge of collapse.
Brawls between rival ethnic groups at the camp has exacerbated tensions, with fights regularly erupting between Afghan and Syrian detainees.
“None of them wants to go back to Turkey. And nor do they want to stay here. The whole point of making the journey is Europe and getting to some rich country there,” another police officer said.
Until recently, residents on Lesbos have exhibited unexpected levels of patience and compassion for refugees. But even that seems to be wearing thin.
On Monday, scores of irate residents in Moria, a village above the camp, marched through the town of Mytilene protesting against the prospect of a second detention centre being built in the area and denouncing the mayor, Spyros Galinos, as a traitor who had ignored local people in favour of refugees.
Lesbos, Greece’s third biggest island, is also among the poorest in a country experiencing unprecedented social hardship on the back of its worst economic crisis in modern times.
Giorgos Kosmopoulos, Amnesty International’s researcher on refugees’ and migrants’ rights in Europe, said: “Witnessing the charred remains of Moria camp is shocking but comes as little surprise. Holding thousands of vulnerable people on Lesbos in appalling conditions with no knowledge of their fate inevitably creates an incendiary atmosphere of fear and despondency.
“The government must ensure that no one is left sleeping rough tonight and everyone is adequately protected from possible violent attacks. The European Union and Greece cannot carry on stockpiling refugees indefinitely on the Greek islands. Instead EU leaders must share responsibility fairly and they must urgently start moving refugees to the mainland and onwards across Europe.”
I say that if someone trashes their own neighbourhood - or camp in this case - just let them. Then they should have to clean up the mess they made, not the host country. If they don't like the conditions they were put into there, they should go back to where they came from. They haven't, so things still must be better in Moria than where they came from.
Most of these refugees seem to thing we owe them more than they are getting. They better learn quickly that giving a refugee safe harbour means giving them a place to live that is safe from the danger they fled. It does not mean providing them with private houses, cars, mobile phones, TVs, and all the goodies in life. You have a right to necessities, but not goodies. Goodies you have to work for, and Greece has given them the necessities. These refugees should count their lucky stars that Greece even took them in at all unlike Hungary who has put up fences patrolled by armed guards to keep out the refugees.
It's not just America, but everywhere we have created an entitlement society where people feel they should get everything for free. As long as we cater to this, we are encouraging entitlement. Entitlement is a magnet for immigrants. We need to get rid of the magnets, not perpetuate them.
Interesting Trivia: The Island Of Lesbos is where the word lesbian is derived. The mythical Sappho, Queen of Lesbos was a lesbian, hence the reason the word was derived from the name of the island.