The International School of Peace for refugee children on the Greek Island of Lesvos, which was created by the Israeli Hashomer Hatzair Life Movement and its Israeli Arab subsidiary, the Ajyal movement, was burned down Saturday night, together with the offices of the One Happy Family (OHF) community center, according to ISP officials who posted the sad report on their Facebook page.
“In recent weeks, tensions have increased on the island of Lesvos following the struggles between the Greek authorities and its citizens. That came as a result of the opening of enclosed camps in the Aegean islands and the opening of borders by Erdogan, the president of Turkey,” the school officials reported.
Anat Sharon, a member of Hashomer Hatzair alumni school staff, told Haaretz on Monday that “the amount of refugees has reached new highs that the island cannot contain. Erdogan opens the borders to allow refugees to move into Greece, creating a boiling point that causes a lot of frustration for the local residents, and encourages far right groups to raise their heads, act violently and terrorize the police, the aid organizations and the refugees.”
Sharon says the tense atmosphere is felt everywhere. “Our team received threats as it tried to enter one of the villages,” she told Haaretz. “They were actually yelled at and told to leave, the crowd banged on the vehicle and wouldn’t let them in. There are hours of the day when it’s best not to go outside and hang out, and now there’s the fire which is still under investigation. A safe place for children went up in flames.”
Local press on Lesvos reported a week ago about another refugee facility that had been burned down under suspicious circumstances.
“We are still shocked by the pictures of OHF and the School of Peace in flames,” the ISP report on Facebook continued, “and still amazed by all your kind words and messages. Alongside the extreme forces operating in Greece and the island in recent weeks, the school stand in solidarity with the residents of Lesvos who have become neighbors and partners of the school in recent years.
“The school was burnt down last night but its strong foundation comes from the tens of thousands of people who passed through its gates, shaped its image, built it together for a better future. The school belongs to all who decide to lift their heads up high, to cling to hope and act, the school belongs to us: students and teachers, people from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Kurdistan, Congo, Somali, Ghana, and Angola who decide day by day to shatter the walls of fear between us, hold hands and work together for peace.
“We will not let this stop us. We are looking forward to the future, and hoping to start rebuilding the school and continuing our work,” the ISP said.
One Happy Family is a community center on the Greek island of Lesvos, which, due to its close distance to Turkey, has become an important stop for people fleeing from wars and crises in the Middle-East and Africa. These refugees stay on the island for many months, according to the OHF, because the deal between the EU and Turkey blocks them from continuing their journey to the mainland.
“Because of the severe human rights situation in Turkey, they can also not be sent back in most cases,” OHF says, explaining that “with our center, which is growing steadily and welcomes several hundred people every day, we fill gaps which have been created by insufficient humanitarian aid and lack of governmental intervention.”
“Our aim is to give a measure of dignity and self-determination back to the thousands of people who are stuck on Lesvos. In the center, there are many projects, which have been built upon the request and initiative of the refugees,” the OHF says.