Greek police arrest suspects in Moria fire as help offers trickle in

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.

Athens/Brussels, 15 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) – 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 EU states, the Greek broadcaster Mega reported, citing police circles.

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

The fire has provoked a renewed debate in the European Union 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.

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.

To come up with a more unified system, the European Commission would present proposals for asylum reforms on September 23, a week earlier than originally planned.

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.

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

Merkel had previously agreed to the offer with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, following pressure on her government to step up its response to the humanitarian crisis.

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.”

Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis discussed the topic of migration on Tuesday. The conversation took place by telephone, his office announced.

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.

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