Wednesday 10/20/21

Greek police arrest five asylum seekers for setting fire to Moria camp

According to police sources, the five are Afghan nationals whose asylum applications were rejected.

On Tuesday evening, another fire broke out near the refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos.

11 September 2020, Greece, Moria: Migrants take part in a protest to call for their resettlement after the massive fire that burnt out the refugee camp of Moria which almost destroyed it, leaving more than 12,000 migrants homeless. Photo: Socrates Baltagiannis/dpa.
Migrants take part in a protest to call for their resettlement after the fire that burnt out the Moria camp. Photo: Socrates Baltagiannis/dpa.

Greek police have arrested five alleged arsonists who are accused of having set fire last week to the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos.

"The arsonists have been arrested. They are young migrants. Another is still being sought," Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis told state broadcaster ERT.

According to police sources, the five are Afghan nationals whose asylum applications were rejected.

Greek media reported that two of the five were arrested not on Lesbos, but on the mainland in northern Greece.

The two are said to be minors who were flown out of Lesbos in the wake of the fire and had been due to be transferred to other European Union states, the Greek broadcaster Mega reported, citing police circles.

Another fire on Samos island

The notoriously overcrowded and squalid Moria camp was almost completely destroyed by several simultaneous fires. More than 12,500 migrants remain homeless.

On Tuesday evening, another fire broke out near the refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos. The mayor of the town of Vathy, Giorgos Stanzos, said the blaze erupted near the camp's registration centre.

Firefighters were able to bring the blaze partly under control, according to a report from the island's online news portal Samos Today.

The camp is not in danger, Stantzos told radio station Thema 104.6. He had earlier expressed concern that some of the tents in the camp might burn.

Local media reported that several men were detained by police on suspicion of arson. It was not clear who the men were or what their motives had been.

According to Greek media, the fire started around 200 to 300 metres away from the camp.

Since last week's arson fire on Lesbos, Greek politicians have warned about the so-called 'Moria tactic,' according to which fires could be purposely set in the Aegean island refugee camps as a way for the asylum-seeking residents to be brought to the Greek mainland or to wealthy northern European countries.

According to the Greek Ministry of Migration, around 4,600 migrants live in the Vathy refugee camp near the village of the same name on the island of Samos, but the camp only has a capacity of around 650 places.

The fire on Lesbos has provoked a renewed debate in the EU about who should take responsibility for irregular or undocumented migrants who enter from outside the bloc.

The Greek islands, with their close proximity to the shores of Turkey, have been particularly affected by the waves of migrants who take to the waters in hope of reaching the EU.

EU calls for solidarity

European Council President Charles Michel called for more solidarity with Greece on the EU level.

"The question on migration is a challenge for the entire European Union. It's not only a challenge for the member states that are at the front line," he said at a press conference in Greece.

EU countries had to come together "to mobilize a just, strong, and efficient response," he said.

His home country Belgium offered to take in only a handful of migrants. As the Belgian newspaper De Morgen reported, they agreed to take in 12 unaccompanied minors.

Other solidarity offers remained similarly cautious. Poland's contribution to the Moria crisis will be 150 module houses which the Foreign Ministry wants to send to Greece and Syria.

One of the first countries offering to take in migrants has been Germany, albeit only a fraction of those stranded on Lesbos.

Germany is to take in 1,553 refugees, from 408 families, who are living on five Greek islands and have already been determined by Athens as deserving of protection, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

On top of that number, Germany will also take in up to 150 unaccompanied underage asylum seekers plus 243 children in need of treatment and their immediate families. Some of the transfers to Germany have already taken place, Seibert said.

Merkel: 'Conditions very intolerable'

The plan has the support of both Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their centre-left coalition partners, the Social Democrats.

Merkel told a meeting of conservative lawmakers on Tuesday that Germany's acceptance of the migrants "should not create the illusion that the problems have been solved," she was quoted as saying by those in attendance.

"The truth is: We all knew that the conditions on the Greek islands are very intolerable," she said, describing the Moria camp as "not a sign of Europe's values and of Europe's ability to act."

New accommodation is being set up on Lesbos for the migrants left homeless by the fire.

Greece has said that only those who move to a facility set up at the existing Kara Tepe camp will be able to proceed with their asylum applications. Flyers saying this in seven languages have been distributed among the people affected.