Asylum seeker sets himself on fire in protest
A refugee set himself on fire yesterday in protest against the closure of Macedonia’s border with Greece, as the EU plan to stem the influx of refugees descended further into chaos.
The man ran through the encampment at Idomeni before other refugees doused the flames and he was taken to hospital. Police said his injuries were not life-threatening.
The border was closed this month, blocking the Balkan migration route along which a million refugees passed last year.
Around 12,000 asylum seekers remain camped in the mud in the desperate hope that the frontier might reopen.
The EU scheme to staunch the exodus of migrants and refugees from Turkey looked increasingly unworkable last night. The UN’s refugee agency suspended some operations in protest against the detention of asylum seekers.
The UNHCR said that reception centres on Aegean Islands such as Lesbos had been turned into grim detention centres. It said it would no longer transport refugees by bus to the centres.
“The majority of arrivals here are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. People should not be punished for seeking safety,” said Boris Cheshirkov, a UNHCR spokesman on Lesbos.
The agency fears Greece lacks capacity to process asylum seekers in “hotspot” centres. “UNHCR is not a party to the EU-Turkey deal, nor will we be involved in returns or detention,” said Melissa Fleming, the agency’s spokesman. The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres also said it would suspend all its activities in the camps.
The EU agreed with Ankara last Friday that migrants arriving on the Greek islands will be sent back to Turkey. Deportations are meant to start on April 4. But hundreds of extra personnel promised by Brussels have yet to turn up and the situation on the ground is chaotic.
The main refugee camp on Lesbos was described by aid groups as resembling a prison.