Children play as migrants gather in a field in Edirne, near the Turkish-Greek border on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Thousands of migrants headed for Turkey's land border with Greece after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government said last week that it would no longer prevent migrants and refugees from crossing over to European Union territory. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Amid tensions, fire damages Greek island refugee center

March 08, 2020 - 4:45 am

ATHENS (AP) — A fire broke out at a refugee center on the Greek island of Lesbos, Greece's firefighting service said Sunday, causing considerable damage to a warehouse but no injuries.

It was the second fire at an installation built for migrants, after a reception center was burned down by unknown perpetrators last Monday. The warehouse, which contained furniture and electrical appliances, was completely destroyed, a firefighting service spokesman told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, because an investigation into the fire is ongoing.

The blaze at the refugee center came 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.

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 migrants and refugees from crossing over to EU countries. Greece has deployed riot police and border guards to repel people trying to enter the country.

The Greek border area has since seen violent confrontations between the migrants and Greek security forces, with officers in Greece firing tear gas to block the migrants and Turkish police firing tear gas back at their Greek counterparts.

On Saturday, youths threw rocks at Greek police and tried to break down a border fence in a desperate attempt enter Greece. At least two migrants were injured in the skirmishes.

Erdogan will travel to Brussels on Monday to talk with top EU officials about a 2016 Turkey-EU agreement on containing the refugee flows to Europe which has now collapsed. The two sides have accused each other of failing to respect their commitments.

The deal called for Turkey to halt the flow of Europe-bound migrants and refugees in exchange for up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) 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.

The decision has irked EU countries, which are still dealing with the political fallout from a wave of mass migration five years ago. EU foreign ministers have criticized Turkey, saying it is using the migrants' desperation "for political purposes."

Thousands of migrants have slept in makeshift camps near the border since the Turkish government said they were free to go, waiting for the opportunity to enter Greece.

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Associcated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

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