Refugee shelter burns as Greece rolls out new asylum restrictions

Blaze at refugee centre on Lesbos amid tense standoff between Turkey and EU over responsibility for migrants.

Greece fire
There were no immediate reports of injuries [Reuters TV]

A fire broke out at a refugee centre on the Greek island of Lesbos as Greece announced further restrictions towards asylum seekers in response to a migration surge enabled by Turkey.

Sunday’s incident at One Happy Family, a Swiss-operated family care centre for refugees, was the second fire at an installation built for migrants after a reception centre was burned down by unknown perpetrators last Monday.

The warehouse, which contained furniture and electrical appliances, was completely destroyed, a spokesman for the firefighters told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday on condition of anonymity, because an investigation into the fire was continuing.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos, reporting from the camp in Lesbos, said the building was destroyed.

“It could be an accident, but at a time of high political tension on the island where right-wing groups have clashed with volunteers and NGOs helping the refugees, there is also a suspicion that this might not be,” said Psaropoulos.


The blaze at the refugee centre took place amid a tense standoff between Turkey and the European Union over who is responsible for the millions of migrants and refugees on Turkish territory and the thousands who have massed recently at its border with Greece.

Thousands of migrants headed for Turkey’s land border with EU member Greece after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government announced earlier this month that it would no longer prevent these people from crossing into EU countries.

Greece has deployed riot police and border guards to stop people trying to enter the country and the Greek border area has since seen violent confrontations.

Earlier on Saturday, the Greek Minister for Immigration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV state support for refugees would be drastically reduced, and that they would be asked to leave camps after securing protected status.

“Accommodation and benefits for those granted asylum will be interrupted within a month. From then on, they will have to work for a living. This makes our country a less attractive destination for migration flows,” the minister said.

Many migrants have reported crossing into Greece, being beaten by Greek authorities and summarily forced back into Turkey.

Erdogan will travel to Brussels on Monday for talks with top EU officials about a 2016 Turkey-EU agreement on containing the refugee flows to Europe that has now collapsed. Each side has blamed the other.

The deal called for Turkey to halt the flow of Europe-bound migrants and refugees in exchange for up to six billion euros ($6.7bn) in aid for Syrian refugees on its territory, fast-track EU membership and visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens.

Erdogan has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for refugees, accusing the EU of failing to disburse the money.

He announced that Turkey, which already houses more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, would no longer be Europe’s gatekeeper.

EU foreign ministers have criticised Turkey, saying it is using the migrants’ desperation “for political purposes”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies