Four young Afghan men charged after huge blaze at Lesbos migrant camp

Four young Afghan men are charged with burning down Lesbos migrant camp – as fire breaks out at another Greek camp overnight

  • The men were taken to a Lesbos court on Wednesday to be formally charged  
  • They now have three days to prepare their case while in police custody
  • A devastating fire ripped through the island’s Moria camp last Wednesday 
  • More than 12,000 people have been left homeless after the blaze 
  • People in the camp were mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria 

Four young Afghan men have been charged with arson for alleged involvement in fires that destroyed most of a large refugee camp on the eastern island of Lesbos, Greek authorities have said. 

The court appearance came just hours after another fire threatened a camp of more than 47,000 people on Samos island late on Tuesday night.

The men allegedly involved in the September 8 fire on Lesbos, who have not been named, were led to a court on the island on Wednesday to be formally charged.

Four young men appeared in court on Lesbos island in connection with a devastating blaze on September 8 that destroyed the Moria camp – Europe’s largest camp for asylum seekers

The four men were charged with arson over the fire at the camp on the Greek Island. They have been returned to police custody and have three days to prepare their case

Along with arson, they faced a host of charges including fomenting unrest, property damage, illegal use of force and attempting to injure police.

They were later returned to police detention after being given three days to prepare their case. 

The later fire, which broke out on Samos island late on Tuesday night, was reportedly brought under control by firefighters and did not damage the nearby camp. 

The overcrowded Moria camp on Lesbos is the largest for asylum seekers in Europe.

It was devastated by the fire on September 8, which prompted more than 12,000 migrants and refugees to flee.

Nobody was hurt but most of the people housed there remain without shelter, sanitation or access to food.

Many have since camped on a roadside near the gutted camp.

The Moria camp was home to some 12,000 people who have now been left without shelter, adequate sanitation or access to food. They are now even more vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic  

Two other individuals allegedly involved in setting the fires are being held by police on the Greek mainland and have not been formally charged. 

The two were both Afghan nationals, aged 17, and had initially been taken off Lesbos in a mass operation to remove unaccompanied minors from harm’s way, a source told AFP news agency, adding that they will be charged at a later date.

The Greek government maintains that the fires at Moria were set deliberately by migrants and refugees protesting confinement after the site was locked down due to an outbreak of Covid-19.

The United Nations refugee agency has urged Greece to speed up asylum processes on Lesbos so that the thousands of migrants still sleeping rough after the fire can be removed.

“The idea is not that people remain for ever on the island of Lesbos, but that processes are accelerated so that people can leave gradually and in an orderly way” to capital Athens or elsewhere on the mainland, the UN agency’s chief in Greece Philippe Leclerc told reporters.

Thousands of migrants and refugees have been camping along a roadside near the ruins of the Moria camp since it was raised by an enormous fire on September 8. The UN has called for Greece to speed up the asylum process in light of the situation

Greece’s police minister Michalis Chrysochoidis this week said that “half” the migrants on Lesbos should be able to leave “by Christmas” and “the rest by Easter”.

On Lesbos, crews this week hastily put together another tent camp which according to European Union home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson will eventually accommodate up to 9,000 people.

On Wednesday, the Greek migration ministry said roughly 1,200 of the 12,000 Moria migrants had been housed at the site.

“We expect 2,000 will enter by tonight,” a migration ministry source said.

Of those in the camp, 35 have tested positive for coronavirus. 

In Brussels, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc would “abolish” the existing Dublin Regulation, which makes asylum seekers the responsibility of the first member state where they set foot.

Von der Leyen promised “a new European migration governance system” with “common measures on asylum and return and… a strong solidarity mechanism”.

Merkel’s Millions the sequel: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to take an extra 1,500 refugees left homeless following a fire which destroyed a migrant camp on Lesbos but Greek authorities fear this could lead to copycat blazes 

Germany has agreed to take in 1,500 migrants from the Greek islands after a fire left thousands homeless last week, sources have said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer have reportedly come to the agreement, with sources saying Seehofer had made the proposal and Merkel had agreed. 

More than 12,000 people, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation or access to food and water after a fire tore through the overcrowded Moria migrant camp on Lesbos last Wednesday. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was praised and derided for her 2015 decision to admit more than one million migrants and refugees to enter Germany. Merkel reportedly agreed on Wednesday to take in 1,500 of those stranded by the Moria fire on the Greek island of Lesbos

There are around 30,000 refugees and migrants on the Greek islands in total. 

However, Germany’s top-selling newspaper Bild daily claims that Athens is concerned that sending migrants to Germany could cause a chain reaction on other Greek islands.  

With Greek officials accusing migrants of setting fire to the camp to prompt a move, they fear that by appearing to give in to demands of the protesting refugees, migrant camps on other islands could copy the alleged actions of those on Lesbos.

‘What we need is a solid plan that doesn’t pose any further problems, but actually helps the people. Various options are currently being explored, ‘ a member of the Greek government told Bild.

In 2015, Merkel made the decision to keep borders open as people fled war-torn regions such as Syria and Iraq, allowing more than one million migrants to enter Germany.

Her decision divided many, even leading to a far-right party – the AfD – gaining a meaningful presence in parliament for the first time since the Nazi regime.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly agreed to take 1,500 migrants from the Greek islands. Pictured: Protesters on Friday is Lesbos hold up a sign that says ‘Germany! Please help us’ pleading for help from Germany, a favoured destination for many migrants and refugees who arrive in Greece

The government sources told Reuters news agency that Germany would home migrants whose asylum applications have already been accepted, adding that they would not only take refugees from Lesbos. 

Leading politicians from the parties in Germany’s ruling coalition government had agreed to try and reach an agreement by Wednesday on how many migrants they would accept in addition to the 100-150 unaccompanied minors they had already promised to house.

Berlin has been facing growing calls from regional and local politicians who have said they would take in people from the camp if the federal government allowed them to.  

On Monday, the German government said it was in talks to take families with children that had been left homeless by the fire. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin that the help for the minors was ‘a first step’, but added that more needed to be done to alleviate the suffering of the 12,000 who had lost their temporary homes in the fire. 

‘Talks are now ongoing in the federal government about how else Germany can help, what other substantial contribution our country can make,’ he said, adding that a ‘second step’ would focus on taking in families with children.

On Monday he called the apparent arson attack a ‘humanitarian emergency, a one-off emergency situation.’

Seibert declined to put a number of how many families Germany may take in, but Bild said Merkel was prepared to welcome ‘hundreds of children and their families, perhaps even thousands’, citing government sources. 

Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said that Germany – being Europe’s biggest country and economy – ‘must take a substantial second step’ to help the migrants in Moria. 

The decision to allow more to enter is expected to once again polarise many.    

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pictured yesterday, has reportedly agreed to accommodate 1,500 migrants from the Greek islands after a fire left thousands homeless. In 2015, Merkel’s decision to leave the borders open to hundreds of thousands of migrants was a contentious one, and the latest decision will likely stir up past tensions

German Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, pictured, had reportedly made the proposal to take the migrants, and Merkel had agreed

Today, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis repeated a call for more help from the European Union, which has struggled to find a unified approach to the migrant crisis at its borders, saying it was time for ‘tangible solidarity’ from Europe. 

Meanwhile, five ‘young foreign nationals’ were arrested in Lesbos in connection with the fire, Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis said according to Greek state news agency ANA. 

He added a sixth suspect is believed to be ‘at large.’ A local police source, who refused to be named, said that person had already fled the island.

Greek authorities believe the fire was deliberately lit by camp occupants after quarantine measures were imposed following the discovery of COVID cases on the site, but the incident has put the migrant issue firmly back on the European agenda.  

Families, children, young men and pregnant women have been left wandering aimlessly since a blaze ripped through the camp on the night of September 8, forcing its 12,000 occupants to sleep rough in abandoned buildings, on roadsides and even rooftops.

‘The camp was burned by refugees and migrants who wanted to blackmail the government in order to be rapidly transferred from the island (to the continent),’ Stelios Petsas, the Greek government’s spokesman, told reporters in Athens.

He gave no further details. Greece’s migrations minister last week made similar accusations, even as an investigation has yet to conclude. 

Protesters march in front of the parliament during a rally in support of the migrants on the island of Lesbos, in Athens on Saturday

Refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are seen inside a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos on Monday

Fire almost completely destroyed Moria, the largest migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, leaving more than 12,000 asylum seekers without shelter

Authorities are erecting a new camp of white tents in haste near the eastern port-village of Panagiouda as exhaustion, hunger and fear set in, and locals look on with trepidation.

Many refugees refuse to go there, fearing they will just be forgotten inside while others are reluctantly making their way to the site.

The new camp ‘seems harsh, with its direct sunlight and no shade. But I’m entering tomorrow as I have no choice,’ said Pariba, an Afghan woman.

Inside the site, which is closed to the press, Malik, an Algerian migrant, told AFP by phone that he had settled there with his wife and five children.

‘There’s nothing in the camp, no shower, no mattresses. There is only one meal per day, and they give us a carton with six bottles of water,’ said the French teacher.

On Tuesday, the Greek migration ministry said roughly 800 of the 12,000 Moria migrants had been housed at the site. Among them, 21 have tested positive for coronavirus. 

‘The big concern is that even though many thousands of places are available and will continue to be expanded, there are still less than 1,000 that have been occupied,’ said Luciano Calestini, head of the Greece office of the United Nations childrens organisation UNICEF.

Only a few hundred migrants, mainly unaccompanied minors, have been moved off Lesbos. Greek officials have said there will be no mass transfers and all asylum seekers will have to go into the new shelter. 

A man picks his way between the destroyed remains of tents inside the Moria camp, after the fire had burned out

Refugees and migrants sleep outside a supermarket on the road leading to Mytilene town on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday

Refugees and migrants from the destroyed camp of Moria throw back tear gas fired by riot police during clashes, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. The migrant camp burned down earlier this week, leaving thousands homeless

He added he was currently living alongside some 200 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and African countries.

In photos by one of his fellow camp members who wanted to remain anonymous, groups of migrants are seen waiting for food and water in scorching heat, some wearing masks.

Residents nearby were looking on with a wary eye, calling on European countries to lend a helping hand.

‘We’re afraid. Ninety percent of the people here are against the new camp, and all of us, we want them to leave the island,’ said Savvas Afentoulis, 70, sitting at a cafe in Panagiouda. ‘Greece can’t handle alone the situation, the EU has to find a solution.’

Five years after the arrival in Europe of over a million asylum seekers, many fleeing war in Iraq and Syria, the question on how the bloc should share out its refugee responsibilities remains a sensitive one.

Opposition from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia over taking on refugees has been a major stumbling block in the EU’s attempt to reform its migration and asylum policies.

Even in Germany, politicians are wary of seeing the same scenes of huge migrant arrivals than in 2015, which the far-right capitalised on to gain a foothold in parliament.

This time round, Merkel’s government has repeatedly insisted it is key to find a European solution to the issue rather than going it alone.

European Council chief Charles Michel, in Athens for talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said that the EU must provide a ‘just, strong and efficient response’ to the problem. 

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