Greece’s Supreme Court has ordered an urgent investigation into racist attacks that followed the outbreak of ferocious wildfires in the country’s northeast.
The court order came after search teams found the bodies of 18 migrants who had been burned beyond recognition in a wooded area that had gone up in flames in Alexandroupolis, bordering Turkey.
In a separate case, a man was arrested late Tuesday after posting a social media video showing him pulling a trailer along a dirt road, then asking another person to swing open the rear door, revealing 13 Syrian and Pakistani migrants, all handcuffed and visibly frightened.
In the video, the man is heard shouting in Greek, “Let’s get organized.” He calls for others to go out and “round them up,” saying, “They will burn us.”
Vigilantes are ubiquitous in Greece’s rugged northeastern border areas, which are key crossing points for thousands of asylum-seekers sneaking into the country from neighboring Turkey. The high court ordered a crackdown on the vigilantes, who have accused migrants of setting the fires and have incited other locals to go after them.
Minister of Migration Dimitris Keridis quickly spoke in support of the court’s action against hate crimes.
In Greece, he said, “The law of the land prevails, not those who choose to take it into their own hands.”
Such behavior will be crushed, he said.
More than 350 wildfires have broken out across the country in the past week, with the worst raging out of control in Alexandroupolis and on the outskirts of Athens, near a national preserve.
Schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly and a monastery housing nuns have been evacuated. A migrant camp with 800 asylum-seekers in Athens was also cleared out on Wednesday, and migrants moved to another housing facility about 50 kilometers south of the Greek capital, Athens.
Firefighters across Greece say they fear the worst is yet to come. Searing temperatures and gale-force winds were forecast for several days before rainfall was expected to bring some relief.