Greek authorities shut down British expat run refugee centre

Published:  28 Jun at 6 PM
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Tourism authorities on the Greek island of Lesvos have shut down a refugee centre run by two British expats, fining them €10,000 for running an unlicensed hotel.

The 20-room centre, located in Molyvos village, was housed in a formerly derelict beachside hotel rented and renovated by a British couple who’d been working with refugees for two years. Renamed the ‘Hope Centre’, the shelter was funded via sponsorship from Western Europe and provided food, shelter, clothing and advice to refugees arriving on the island.

Philippa and Eric Kempson arrived on Lesvos in 1999 and. for the past two years, have been heavily involved in helping illegal migrants from war-torn Syria who’d survived the dangerous boat journey across the Mediterranean. As well as losing the shelter, they’ve been hit with a €10,000 fine for ‘operating an unlicensed hotel’, although the premises were not being used as a hotel as its services were freely offered.

The couple are convinced tourism operators on the island are responsible for the closure and fine. At a recent meeting with tourism officials to try to keep the shelter open, they were met with open hostility, rudeness, banging on tables and screaming responses to thier queries. Before the meeting, Eric had posted on social media that death threats had been made to him and his wife.

The removal of all contents and sealing of the shelter was witnessed by the couple, several local NGO supporters and a number of island residents in favour of it being allowed to continue. Also present were some 150 local people and business owners as well as officials from the Regional Tourism Service. An official from the Molyvos and Petra Co-ordination Committee told reporters that the closure was to protect refugees in the island from greedy NGOs and also to protect the local environment.

A spokesperson from the Regional Tourism Service stated that the closure was according to Greek legislation regarding the operation of unregistered hotel complexes, adding that the fine was imposed due to the Kempsons’ obstructing the organisation’s staff whilst they were inspecting the premises. Local commercial tourism operators had complained about the shelter for some time, claiming it spoiled the ambience of the village and its beach.

No comments were made concerning the fate of those refugees who were being sheltered and helped within the property. A similar project on Rhodes was forced to close due to local tourism operators’ complaints about the visibility of numbers of refugees, in spite of reports that locals were using the refugee crisis to their financial advantage.
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