US Demands Iran Release Seized Tankers, Crew

The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Ice Energy (L) transfers crude oil from the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Lana (R) (former Pegas), off the shore of Karystos, on the Island of Evia, on May 29, 2022. Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP
The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Ice Energy (L) transfers crude oil from the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Lana (R) (former Pegas), off the shore of Karystos, on the Island of Evia, on May 29, 2022. Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP

 

The United States joined Athens on Monday in strongly condemning Iran’s seizure of two Greek-flagged oil tankers in Gulf waters and demanding their immediate release, calling the abductions a “threat to maritime security.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias agreed in a call “that Iran must immediately release the seized vessels, their cargoes, and their crews,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights and freedoms are a threat to maritime security and the global economy,” Price added.

READ ALSO: Around 100 Dead In Clashes Between Chad Gold Miners

“The United States stands with Greece, our key NATO Ally and partner in the face of this unjustified seizure.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the Greek tankers in the Gulf Friday, days after Athens confirmed it would deliver to Washington Iranian oil it had seized from a Russian tanker.

Tehran said Saturday the crews of the two tankers were in “good health” and not under arrest.

The crews — Greece says nine of its citizens are among the ship workers, but has not specified the number of other sailors on board — have remained on board the two tankers.

Greece has condemned Tehran’s seizures as “tantamount to acts of piracy” and warned its citizens not to travel to Iran.

The Revolutionary Guards — the ideological arm of Iran’s military — had said it seized the tankers “due to violations”, without elaborating further.

Greece said one of the tankers had been sailing in international waters, while the second was near the Iranian coast when it was seized.

Athens said Iranian navy helicopters had landed gunmen on the two tankers.

 

AFP

Greece Resumes Search For Ferry Fire Survivors

This handout grab video taken and released by Guardia Costiera on February 18, 2022, shows the liner “Euroferry Olympia” of the Italian company Grimaldi, flying the Italian flag, and carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew members as well as vehicles, which was on fire, for more than four hours.

 

 

Greek firefighters and coastguards said Monday they were resuming the search for 10 people still missing from a ferry fire last week in which a truck driver perished.

Television footage showed smoke still billowing from the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia, more than 72 hours after a fire ripped through the vessel as it sailed from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Brindisi in Italy with nearly 300 people aboard.

“It is a very difficult operation,” a fire department spokeswoman told AFP.

More than 40 firefighters were taking part in the search and rescue operation with tugboats and coastguard vessels on standby nearby.

“There is major thermal stress and a lot of smoke,” the spokeswoman said.

Most of the passengers were quickly evacuated, and a 21-year-old Belarussian truck driver emerged alive on Sunday.

But 10 other truck drivers — seven Bulgarians, two Greeks and one Turk — remain unaccounted for.

The body of a 58-year-old Greek truck driver was recovered Sunday, the first confirmed fatality of the accident.

Two of those rescued were Afghans not on the list, sparking fears that more undocumented passengers might also have been on board.

The missing drivers reportedly slept in their vehicles, because cabins on the ferry were unsuitable, according to the Greek truck drivers’ union.

“We had many complaints about living conditions for the drivers,” union chairman Akis Dermatis told Greek public television ERT.

The ferry’s owners, Grimaldi Lines, rejected the accusations, saying in a statement on Sunday that an inspection by the authorities in the port of Igoumenitsa two days before the fire had been “satisfactory”.

The last fire onboard a ship in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic, in which 13 people died.

Passenger Found Alive On Ferry Ablaze Off Greece

Smoke rises from the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia, which is on fire, on the Greek Ionian island of Corfu, on February 20, 2022, two days after the ship, en route to Brindisi in Italy, caught fire at dawn after leaving the Greek port of Igoumenitsa with 290 people, including 51 crew members registered on board. 
Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP

 

A passenger was on Sunday found alive on a ferry that has been ablaze off Greece for three days, coastguards said, with 11 truck drivers still missing.

Rescuers spotted the man on the stern of the stricken vessel as it was being towed to port.

“Tell me I’m alive,” the 21-year-old truck driver who said he was from Belarus, told rescuers, according to the Proto Thema news website.

Clad in tan shorts and a black t-shirt, he climbed down a ladder into a rescue boat, according to images from the iefimerida news website.

The fire broke out on the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia late on Thursday as it sailed from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Brindisi in Italy, with nearly 300 people aboard.

Following the blaze, criticism had mounted over conditions aboard the vessel, which was reported to be carrying fuel and “corrosive dangerous goods.”

Rescuers managed to save 280 passengers on Friday, evacuating them to Corfu, but 12 lorry drivers remained missing.

The man rescued on Sunday was one of those drivers, the coastguards said.

Authorities initially gave the missing as seven from Bulgaria, three from Greece, one from Turkey and one from Lithuania.

On Sunday, they said there was an error and the missing Lithuanian was actually the man saved, who was from Belarus.

The drivers are believed to have been asleep inside their lorries when the blaze broke out.

On Sunday the vessel was being towed toward the Kassiopi inlet near Corfu.

Olympia was carrying an estimated 800 cubic metres of fuel and 23 tons of “corrosive dangerous goods”, according to Italy’s environment ministry which said on Saturday that a “possible spill” was detected after a fly-over by an Italian coastguard aircraft.

 ‘Miserable’ Conditions 

The vessel was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew, as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles, the Grimaldi company has said.

But the coastguard has said two of the 280 people rescued were Afghans not on the manifest, sparking fears that more undocumented passengers could also be missing.

The missing truckers reportedly slept in their vehicles because cabins on the vessel were overcrowded.

Ilias Gerontidakis, the son of a missing Greek trucker, told the Proto Thema online newspaper the Olympia “miserable from every point of view”.

“It had bed bugs, it was dirty, it had no security systems,” he said as he waited at the port for news.

“It had 150 lorries inside. Normally it should have 70 to 75 cabins, but it only has 50. They force us to sleep four people in a cabin”, he said.

“My father, from what I was told, slept in the truck.”

The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in that blaze.

Eleven Missing In Greece Ferry Fire

This handout grab video taken and released by Guardia Costiera on February 18, 2022, shows the liner “Euroferry Olympia” of the Italian company Grimaldi, flying the Italian flag, and carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew members as well as vehicles, which was on fire, for more than four hours.

 

Eleven people were missing in a fire that engulfed an Italian-flagged ferry in the Ionian Sea, the Greek coastguard said Friday amid efforts to free two more people trapped on board.

Another 278 people had been rescued, the coastguard said, including a migrant whose presence raised fears for more unaccounted-for people on board.

A dozen people remained unaccounted for, according to owners Grimaldi Lines, on the vessel, which was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles.

A migrant stowaway was rescued in addition to those on the ship’s list, raising fears that more undocumented passengers could be on board.

Migrant stowaways frequently sneak onto ferries between Greece and Italy.

Grimaldi Lines said they were alerted at 4:12 am (0212 GMT) to the fire on the Euroferry Olympia, which was heading to Italy from the Greek port city of Igoumenitsa opposite Corfu.

Television images showed the ship enveloped in flames which sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.

“The ship is burning from end to end,” Corfu rescuer Yiorgos Glikofridis told ERT from a vessel near the ferry.

“There is a tremendous amount of smoke and visibility is poor. We see no movement on the deck, only flames,” he said.

A Greek coastguard spokeswoman said it would take several hours to extinguish the fire.

The Bulgarian foreign ministry said there were 127 of its nationals on the passenger list, including 37 truck drivers. Another 24 are from Turkey, Turkey’s NTV station said.

– Stowaway fears –
No fuel spill has been detected at sea, and the ship’s stability does not appear to be compromised, the company said.

“Tugboats have been hired and are heading towards the Euroferry Olympia to give prompt support and manage the emergency,” it said.

“We heard that the fire started in the hold, but it’s not certain,” a Greek man who identified himself as a passenger told Skai TV.

“It took just 15 minutes for the fire to reach the deck,” he said, adding that the mostly Italian crew’s response had been “simply perfect”.

“They were very organised. The crew saved us,” he said.

The cause of the fire off the island of Ereikousa between Greece and Albania, is still unknown.

Greek coastguard patrol and tow boats were rushed to the site and a frigate and two helicopters took part in the rescue operations.

An Italian patrol boat also assisted, and some rescued passengers later told Italian news agency Ansa that the flames were “gigantic” and that panic had ensued.

“The evacuation was not a simple matter,” the patrol boat’s commander told Ansa.

Nikos Bardis, a local fisherman, had earlier told ERT that several fishing boats were also circling the stricken vessel, looking for people in the water.

“We can hear explosions, it must be freight trucks blowing up,” he said.

There is heavy maritime traffic between the western Greek ports of Igoumenitsa and Patras and the Italian ports of Brindisi and Ancona.

The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in the blaze.

Strong Quake Rocks Northern Greece

A file photo of Greece flag.

A strong 5.4-magnitude earthquake rocked northern Greece on Sunday near the country’s second city of Thessalonika, the National Observatory of Athens said.

The epicentre of the quake, which struck at 1150 GMT, was 23 kilometres (14 miles) south west of Orthodox spiritual centre Mount Athos at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), the observatory said.

There were no reports of victims or material damage.

Greece is highly susceptible to tremors, being situated on several geological faultlines.

In October 2020, a quake registering 7.0 struck in the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Samos and Izmir in western Turkey, which bore the brunt with 114 deaths and more than 1,000 injured. In Greece, two youths died on Samos.

UPDATED: Greece Donates J&J COVID-19 Vaccines To Nigeria

 

Greece has donated about one million doses of the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine to Nigeria as the Federal Government moves to ensure more citizens are vaccinated against the disease.

A delegation from the European country led by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikolaos Dendias, announced the donation of the vaccines in Abuja on Monday.

Dendias made the announcement at a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, and other Nigerian government officials.

He said Nigeria and Greece have enjoyed a favourable bond over the years and that his country was even willing to expand the relationship.

READ ALSO: NCDC Alerts States As Lassa Fever Death Toll Hits 102

The Greek minister explained that such an expansion would culminate in the signing of Memoranda of Understanding on various issues affecting both countries.

Onyeama, on his part, said Nigeria has enjoyed a smooth partnership with Greece in the area of defence.

He said the present administration was willing to expand its partnership with Greece, especially in the areas of agriculture and infrastructure.

In this photo taken on January 10, 2022, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, and Greece Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikolaos Dendias, sign some documents as the European country donates about one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Nigeria.

 

Meanwhile, six more people have died of complications related to COVID-19 with 537 additional cases confirmed.

The new infections were reported in seven states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

They include Rivers – 313, Lagos – 178, FCT – 19, Kaduna – 11, Gombe – six, Ogun – six, Ekiti – three, and Abia – one.

Following the new infections reported, Nigeria has now confirmed a total of 248,312 since it reported its first case in February 2020.

Of the cases confirmed, 218,997 people who initially tested positive have been discharged and 3,077 deaths have been recorded in all 36 states and the FCT.

While the NCDC said it has collected and tested a total of 3,863,081 samples, the country has 26,238 COVID-19 cases that are still active.

Earthquake Strikes Greek Island Of Crete

World War (II) Bomb Forces Huge Greek Evacuation

 

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake struck off the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday, the Athens Observatory said, with no damage reported.

The quake struck at 0408 GMT with an epicenter in the sea 48 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Arvi, on the south coast of the island, the Observatory said.

No damage was reported but Greek firefighters were dispatched to the scene as a precautionary measure.

Greece is located on a number of fault lines and is sporadically hit by earthquakes.

In October 2020, a magnitude 7.0 quake hit in the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Samos and the western Turkish city of Izmir, killing 114 people in Turkey and two teenagers in Greece.

AFP

Pope Ends Visit To Greece Focused On The Plight Of Migrants

Pope Francis addresses a meeting at the Maronite Lady of Grace cathedral in Nicosia’s walled Old City with priests and members of the Maronite Christian community on the first stop in his visit to the predominantly Greek-Orthodox divided east Mediterranean island of Cyprus on December 2, 2021. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

 

Pope Francis on Monday wraps up a landmark three-day visit to Greece which has been marked by his calls for better treatment of migrants in Europe and a visit to asylum seekers on the island of Lesbos.

After a last meeting with young people at a Catholic school, the pope is due to leave Athens to return to Rome at the end of the morning.

Since his arrival in Greece on Saturday, Francis has met with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church and visited the Mavrovouni tent camp on Lesbos, where he called the neglect of migrants the “shipwreck of civilisation”.

Following his visit to the migration flashpoint, he celebrated mass for some 2,000 faithful in Athens, where he urged respect for the “small and lowly”.

In 2016, Francis visited the sprawling Moria camp on Lesbos, when the island was the main gateway for migrants heading to Europe.

His visit to Mavrovouni was shorter than in 2016 but he was warmly welcomed by a crowd of migrants at the camp, which houses nearly 2,200 asylum seekers.

People later gathered in a tent to sing songs and psalms to the pontiff, who listened to them, visibly moved.

“I am trying to help you,” Francis told one group through his interpreter.

The Mavrovouni camp was hurriedly erected after Moria, then the largest such site in Europe, burned down last year.

– ‘Grim cemetery without tombstones’ –

In his speech, Francis warned that the Mediterranean “is becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones” and that “after all this time, we see that little in the world has changed with regard to the issue of migration”.

The root causes “should be confronted — not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda”, he added.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 1,559 people have died or gone missing attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing this year.

About 40 asylum-seekers, mostly from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, participated in an Angelus prayer in a camp tent with the pope, in the presence of Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, EU vice-president Margaritis Schinas and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi.

“His visit is a blessing,” said Rosette Leo, a Congolese asylum seeker carrying a two-month-old baby as she waited in line for the ceremony.

However, Menal Albilal, a Syrian mother with a two-month-old baby whose asylum claim was rejected after two years on the island, said refugees “want more than words, we need help.”

“The conditions here are not good for a baby,” she told AFP.

“The Greek government should think about us, we’ve been here for two years without work or education,” said Francois Woumfo, from Cameroon.

The pope has long championed the cause of migrants and his visit came after he delivered a stinging rebuke to Europe which he said was “torn by nationalist egoism”.

Before arriving in Greece, the pope visited Cyprus, where authorities said that 50 migrants will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.

The 84-year-old pope is himself from a family of Italian migrants who settled in Argentina.

Greece Hands Over Olympic Flame To Beijing 2022 Hosts

Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou in the role of ‘High Priestess’, lights the torch with the flame from the cauldron, to pass it over to Chinese organisers during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean Stadium in Athens on October 19, 2021. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP.

 

Greece on Tuesday handed over the Olympic flame to organisers of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, a day after the lighting ceremony was disrupted by activists calling for the event to be postponed.

Hellenic Olympic Committee chief Spyros Kapralos gave the Olympic torch to the vice-president of Beijing 2022 and vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee Yu Zaiqing at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the ancient Games were revived in 1896.

“The Olympic flame will travel to the Great Wall and across other parts of China, bringing with it the light of peace and friendship,” Yu said.

He said China vowed to deliver “a streamlined, safe and splendid Games”.

Around 2,900 athletes, representing approximately 85 National Olympic Committees, will compete in the Winter Games between 4 and 20 February 2022.

Actresses dressed as ancient Greek priestesses had earlier lit a cauldron with the Olympic flame, after China’s Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 freestyle ski silver medallist Li Nina ran a lap with the torch in the second-century AD stadium.

The ceremony was held without spectators, with mainly officials and media in attendance.

“The pandemic may have prevented us from holding the Olympic flame ceremony in the presence of people, but I am sure that the successful and safe organisation of the Games will be another victory of humanity against the coronavirus,” Kapralos said.

“Beijing is making history by becoming the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympic Games. And we are very happy, because by giving you the flame, we also become part of this history,” he added.

The International Olympic Committee has said the flame will go on display to the public in Beijing before setting off on an exhibition tour.

 

‘Genocide’ Games

Earlier Tuesday, activists against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics urged the IOC to postpone the event, arguing that China was perpetrating “genocide” against Uyghurs and Tibetans.

“This is sports-washing. There are no legitimate reasons to host the Games during a genocide,” Zumretay Arkin, advocacy manager of the World Uyghur Congress, told a news conference in the Greek capital.

During the lighting ceremony in Olympia on Monday, the activists unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that said “no genocide” at the Games. A similar protest was held at the Acropolis in Athens on Sunday.

Human rights campaigners and exiles say the Chinese central government practices religious repression, torture, forced sterilisation, and cultural erosion through forced re-education.

Campaigners believe that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.

After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

The IOC is legitimising “one of the worst violations of human rights in the entire 21st century” and defiling the spirit of the Games, Pema Doma, campaigns director for Students for a Free Tibet, told the news conference in Athens.

“These Games cannot go ahead as planned, they must be postponed,” she said.

There have also been calls for athletes and governments to boycott the Games.

IOC chairman Thomas Bach has batted off talk of a potential boycott, claiming the International Olympic Committee’s political neutrality and saying it was up to governments to live up to their responsibilities.

A victim of the 1980 Moscow Games boycott, the former fencer has said such moves only punish athletes, and insists the IOC was addressing the rights issue “within our remit”.

Greece Inaugurates First ‘Closed’ Camp For Asylum Seekers

This photograph taken on September 18, 2021 shows the new EU-funded multi-purpose RIC (reception and identification centre) of migrants on the island of Samos, Greece, during its inauguration. – The Samos camp will be the first of five new ‘closed’ migrant camps. It has a detention centre and will only be accessible via electronic chip. (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

 

Greece on Saturday inaugurated the first of five new “closed” migrant camps, opposed by rights groups who say the strict access measures are too restrictive.

A double barbed wire fence surrounds the 12,000 square metre camp on the island of Samos, which is also installed with surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors.

The EU has committed 276 million euros ($326 million) for the new camps on Greece’s five Aegean islands — Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios as well Samos — that receive most of the migrant arrivals by sea from neighbouring Turkey.

Within the camp is a detention centre, set up for migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected and who are to be sent back to Turkey.

The Samos camp, which will serve as a pilot for the other so-called closed and controlled access facilities, has a detention centre and asylum seekers will only be able to enter via fingerprint scans and electronic badges.

Gates will remain closed at night and disciplinary measures await those who return after eight pm.

The camp boasts sports and games areas, as well as shared kitchens.

Dormitories have five beds each and a cupboard, with shared toilets and showers, an AFP team saw.

“The new closed-controlled access centre will give back the lost dignity to people seeking international protection, but also the necessary conditions of safeguarding and restraint for illegal migrants who are to be returned,” Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said at the opening.

– Living conditions –

The Leros camp is expected to be finished next month, while on Lesbos — home to Moria, Europe’s largest camp, which was destroyed by fire last year — work has yet to begin.

With better quality accommodation, running water, toilets, separate areas for families and more security, the Greek government says that the camps will meet European standards.

They replace facilities that became infamous for their living conditions.

On Samos, the facility near the port of Vathy had been designed for 680 people but at one point was home to nearly 10 times that number.

Asylum seekers still live there — rats, improvised wooden barracks without heating and a lack of toilets and showers continue to be part of their daily lives.

But from Monday, more than 300 residents will be transferred to the new facility five kilometres (three miles) from Samos’s main town of the same name.

Τhe old camp is to be closed by month’s end.

“This is a promise to the local community, but also a commitment of our ministry,” Mitarachi has said, responding to anger among the local community who, for years, watched as the camp ballooned.

– ‘Camps should be open’ –

NGOs and aid groups however have raised concerns about the new camps’ structure in isolated places and residents’ confinement.

Dozens of NGOs, including Amnesty International, accused Greece of pursuing “harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees”.

They urged the EU and Greek government to abandon plans to restrict the movement of people in the camps.

The UN refugee agency’s representative in Greece, Mireille Girard, also voiced reservations, expressing particular concern at the term “closed camp”.

“We have discussed that with the authorities, it was repeated to us this morning that indeed these will be open centres, she added.

“It is very important that in the new facility people are able to move freely in and out of the camp”.

Greece was the main point where more than one million asylum seekers — mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — entered Europe in 2015.

The crisis in Afghanistan has prompted fears of a new migration wave.

According to Mitarachi, the flow of new arrivals has been reduced by 90 percent compared to 2019.

However, humanitarian organisations say the drop is due to illegal pushbacks of migrants by Greek authorities, which the conservative government has repeatedly denied.

AFP

Villages Evacuated As Fresh Wildfires Hit Greece

A picture taken on August 3, 2021 shows a burnt area around Yeniköy Kemerköy thermal Power Plant near Oren, in the holiday region of Mugla, as Turkey struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades.

 

Scores of firefighters battled to contain two new wildfires in Greece on Monday, as winds fanned the blazes and forced several villages and neighbourhoods to be evacuated.

Both fires erupted not far from the site of devastating wildfires that swept parts of Greece earlier this summer, forcing thousands from their homes and destroying property, wildlife and livestock.

Scientists have warned that extreme weather and fierce fires will become increasingly common due to man-made global warming, and Greece’s prime minister has linked the blazes to climate change.

The first fire broke out in the early hours Monday on southern Evia island, northeast of the capital Athens, and the Greek fire brigade said the blaze was largely contained at noon but had not been brought under control.

Two neighbourhoods were evacuated and several boats were offshore to offer help to contain the fires.

READ ALSO: Rare Tropical Storm Downgraded After Hitting US Northeast

A second fire broke out Monday in Vilia, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) northwest of Athens, in an area of thick forestland.

Greek police blocked traffic on a nearby highway as winds fanned the blaze, while two villages were evacuated in the area as a preventative measure.

“The battle against the fires continues wherever there is a front,” government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou said Monday.

“We have already started repairing damage and providing practical support to those affected,” he added.

The civil protection authorities had warned Sunday a “very high risk” of fire for many areas of Greece on Monday.

Since July, wildfires have ravaged the islands of Evia and Rhodes as well as forests to the north and southeast of Athens and parts of the Peloponnese peninsula. Three people have died in the fires.

An earlier fire in Evia burned for more than 10 days, decimating swathes of land, while another blaze that hit Vilia lasted six days was only declared under control on Saturday.

AFP

Greek Villagers Abandon Island Over Raging Fires

A local uses a megaphone as others observe a large forest fire approaching the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece's second largest island, on August 8, 2021. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP
A local uses a megaphone as others observe a large forest fire approaching the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece’s second largest island, on August 8, 2021. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP

 

A police car siren calls for the last residents of the village of Gouves on the Greek island of Evia to evacuate as fire rages down a mountainside and engulfs the first houses.  

“I don’t want to, I don’t want to,” repeats in sobs a woman on her porch who cannot find the strength to flee even as the approaching inferno turns the sky orange.

The fires remained out of control over large swathes of Evia island on Sunday, as evacuations were continuing, pushing hundreds of people towards the beach.

Many villagers joined the battle, and around 10 men were busy digging, cutting and pulling out branches in an effort to slow the raging fire despite the repeated urging of police to leave.

Forming a human chain, they unrolled water hoses fed by agricultural pick-ups, desperate to save their livelihood.

“If people leave, the villages will burn for sure,” says Yannis Selimis, a young man from Gouves. “We are in the hands of God.”

Tempers flared over a lack of government response.

“Which authorities? Which firefighters? Do you see anybody here?” exclaims one local.

“They burnt our paradise,” says Triantafyllos Konstantinos, 46. “We are done,” he sighs.

“It’s tragic. We are all going to the sea,” says Nikos Papaioannou as the fire steadily encroaches on residential areas near the island’s northern coasts.

Refugees in their own country

At Gouves, cars pass through a vast cloud of smoke as they try to go towards the beach.

Some kilometres away, at the beach of Pefki, a ferry boat docked on the beach and a warship off the coast are waiting to rescue these people who have become refugees in their own country.

They wait without knowing whether they will reach the mainland Sunday evening.

“Evia is finished”, says Cleopatra Plapouta. “People are fighting all by themselves. Not a single firefighter inside the villages,” she complains, wearing a scarf and a mask against the thick smoke and ash.

This picture taken on August 9, 2021 shows burnt trees trunk during a wildfire at the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece's second largest island. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP
This picture taken on August 9, 2021 shows burnt trees trunk during a wildfire at the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece’s second largest island. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP

 

“We are burning for a week now!” her husband exclaims. “The fire started 60 kilometres away! 60 kilometres!”

Shirtless, the greying man gesticulates with despair. “It’s unbelievable! It was a heaven, they burnt it down!”

Maria Moushogianni, who owns a beach hotel where she is shelterin two families who have abandoned their homes, says that Sunday was the first day that airplanes appeared.

“They abandoned us, they lied to us! I’m going to close the hotel and leave,” adds the 66-year-old woman, holding her white cat. “This evening if possible”.

 

AFP