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Migrant Tensions Growing in Bulgaria, Greece

  • VOA News

Guards close the barrier of the Harmanli registration center as Bulgarian army soldiers are deployed in Harmanli, Bulgaria, Nov. 25, 2016. Hundreds of migrants have been detained after clashes with police at the refugee camp.

Guards close the barrier of the Harmanli registration center as Bulgarian army soldiers are deployed in Harmanli, Bulgaria, Nov. 25, 2016. Hundreds of migrants have been detained after clashes with police at the refugee camp.

About 300 migrants have been arrested following a riot in Bulgaria's largest refugee camp, as Greece calls on European Union member states to speed relocation efforts after a tragic accident killed two migrants in an overcrowded Lesbos camp.

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told BNR public radio early Friday that about "300 migrants, six of them considered a threat to national security, have been arrested." Borisov spoke to reporters after visiting the camp.

Harmanli, Bulgaria

Harmanli, Bulgaria

Bulgarian officials said between 1,500 and 2,000 migrants were involved in the clashes on Thursday at the Harmanli migrant reception center, near the border with Turkey.

The crowd, primarily made up of refugees from Afghanistan, allegedly set car tires alight and hurled stones at more than 200 police and firefighters to protest a newly imposed rule banning migrants from leaving the center after an alleged outbreak of infectious disease.

Nearly 30 police officers and about two dozen migrants were injured in the unrest, the French news agency AFP reported.

Local citizens draped in Bulgarian national flags gather in sign of protest at the fence of the Harmanli registration center as Bulgarian army soldiers are deployed in Harmanli, Bulgaria, Nov. 25, 2016.

Local citizens draped in Bulgarian national flags gather in sign of protest at the fence of the Harmanli registration center as Bulgarian army soldiers are deployed in Harmanli, Bulgaria, Nov. 25, 2016.

Tensions have run high in the area, with local residents demanding that the refugee camp be closed.

Migrants fleeing violence in the Middle East have made their way into the Balkan country despite the fence Sofia erected along the Turkish border amid the worst migration crisis to hit Europe since 1945.

About 13,000 migrants, most of them from Afghanistan, are currently in Bulgaria, according to official statistics.

'Shocked' by camp fire

In Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was "shocked, as is the entire Greek nation," after a fire broke out in a tent overnight at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos. Two people — a young boy and an older woman — were killed, and two others were injured and were in serious condition at a hospital.

Human rights groups condemned the deaths, blaming the migrants' living conditions on the lack of action by countries in Europe. Despite the overcrowding at camps in Greece, EU member states have taken less than 4 percent of the migrants they committed to taking, according to EU figures.

"How many more people need to die in a tent, trying to keep warm, before EU and Greek authorities take action?" asked Loic Jaeger, head of mission in Greece for the relief agency Doctors Without Borders, or MSF.

Tents burn at the Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, Nov. 25, 2016.

Tents burn at the Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, Nov. 25, 2016.

"The fire in Moria is more than an accident. It is a direct consequence of the deplorable living conditions that Greek and EU authorities force refugees to live in inside Moria camp and other places across Greece," Jaeger said.

Moria is one of five Greek island camps sheltering refugees and migrants listed for deportation back to Turkey. Under a deal struck between the EU and Ankara in March, migrants and refugees who arrived in Greece after March 20 are to be returned to Turkey.

However, that process can take months. More than 62,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece, according to government figures.

RFE/RL contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and dpa.

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