A fire broke out at the Swiss-run One Happy Family community centre on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday evening. Property was damaged but no one was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
The centre is located not far from the Kara Tepe refugee camp, where around 1,500 refugees and migrants live, including many children and families.
Fabian Bracher of the One Happy Familyexternal link association, based in Bergdorf, canton Bern, told the Swiss News Agency Keystone-SDA that the material damage caused by the fire was considerable. The fire has since been extinguished, but the fire brigade and police are still on site.
The One Happy Family centre is used as a meeting place for refugees, with hundreds of people taking advantage of what’s on offer every day, including school lessons, a hairdresser, a café and a library.
In recent weeks there have been repeated acts of violence by right-wing groups on Lesbos, which is just a few kilometres from the Turkish coast, and fires have also been set. Among other things, an initial reception centre of the UN Refugee Agency in the north of the island burnt down, although it was closed at the time.
Migrants at border
The blaze at the refugee centre comes amid a tense standoff between 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 at the Greek border.
Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, an EU member state, since Turkey said on February 28 it would no longer try to keep them on its territory as agreed in 2016 with the EU in return for billions of euros in aid.
About a quarter of the migrants at the border are Syrian and most of the rest are Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians and Africans, according to Turkish estimates.
Greece says it has turned away around 35,000 migrants trying to cross its border in the past week. Turkey has deployed 1,000 special police to the area to halt the pushback of migrants onto its territory.
Athens has also stepped up naval patrols in the Aegean to deter migrants trying to reach Greek islands such as Lesbos by dinghy.
On Monday a young Syrian boy died after being pulled from the sea when a boat capsized off Lesbos, Greek officials said, the first reported fatality since Turkey opened its border to let migrants reach Europe.
Turkey’s coastguard rescued about 120 migrants, including small children, early on Friday. The migrants said the Greek coastguard had disconnected their boats’ motors, leaving them adrift in the Aegean.
On Lesbos, fishermen, hoteliers and shopkeepers expressed concern that more migrant arrivals would further harm their island’s reputation as a dream holiday destination.
“Most businesses, at least tourism businesses, are going to hell,” said Vangelis Papastavros, whose wife owns a hotel in Mytilene, the largest town on an island which already houses some 20,000 migrants in camps in mostly squalid conditions.