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Clashes, fires break out at Pournara, some occupants flee camp (Update 3, photos & quotes)

migrants leave pournara refugee camp during clashes on the outskirts of nicosia
File photo

Clashes broke out and fires were lit at an overcrowded reception centre for migrants in Cyprus on Friday, police and witnesses said, necessitating authorities to break up the fighting with tear gas.

Twenty people were injured, CyBC reported.

Thick plumes of smoke were visible over parts of the Pournara reception facility, some 22 km west of the capital Nicosia.

Witnesses told Reuters people from the camp could be seen fleeing and running along a mayor road nearby with their belongings.

Police confirmed this to the Cyprus Mail, saying that due to smoke in the air, some people exited the camp in order to be able to breathe.

“A number of tents were burnt…the situation has now calmed down,” a police spokesman also told Reuters.

Reports the camp was being evacuated were not confirmed by police, who said no official order had been given, but images that circulated showed people standing all along the road and in the fields near the camp.

According to reports, the two groups that were fighting were Nigerian and Congolese, and that they threw rocks and other objects at each other.

The website Reporter said that when police arrived at the scene, to break up the fighting they used tear gas.

Speaking about the clashes that broke out at the reception centre, Police Chief Stelios Papatheodorou said that they had increased measures lately at Pournara, and that the clashes broke out to the migrant centre’s overcrowding.

“Members of the force are doing whatever they possibly can to protect the area and the refugees and migrant living at the reception centre,” he said.

Police said clashes appeared to have broken out between the two groups in the centre. The fires were extinguished by the fire brigade but sporadic clashes continued, police said.

Pournara has been hosting well over its 1,000 person capacity as Cyprus struggles to cope with an influx of asylum seekers from Syria and from African countries.

Many travel to the southern part of the island through the buffer zone that separates it from the Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in the north.

Meanwhile, Disy leader and presidential candidate Averof Neophytou expressed his frustration in light of the situation and what he characterised as a lack of respect.

“I follow what is happening in Pournara with disappointment and anger. This is how every Cypriot citizen feels today. Our country has assumed much greater responsibilities and obligations than it deserves. And the least we expect is elementary respect. We will continue to offer hospitality and protection to those who really need it. But there are limits that have been crossed. And our tolerance will be zero towards those who do not respect the laws, order and especially the citizens of the country that hosts them,” Neophytou said.

Authorities in Nicosia last week said that this year alone, 17,000 people had entered their jurisdiction through irregular channels. There were 12,285 in the whole of 2021.

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