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Lesvos: Authorities close down refugee center run by British Expats, impose €10,000 penalty

Tourism authorities in Lesvos closed down Hope Centre, a hotel turned into a shelter for refugees, on Monday in the presence of locals. Hope Centre is a former holiday hotel British expats couple Eric and Philippa Kempson leased for a good cause. Authorities ruled that the 20-room center can no longer be used to provide shelter, food and clothing to refugees and migrants in Molyvos village of Lesvos, as they had no license. The Hope Centre cannot even be used as a warehouse to store supplies so everything in it had to be removed by a deadline of Monday.

The Kempsons were also being hit with a €10,000 penalty for running a hotel without a license.

The couple who has done exceptional charity and aid work since the beginning of the refugee crisis, claim they are the victims of an island backlash against the migrants.

Philippa, 43, and Eric, 60, originally from Newport, Gwent, have lived on Lesbos since 1999 and first began helping refugees two years ago.

Eric Kempson and daughter EJ rescue a boy from the sea

  Eric Kempson and daughter EJ rescue a boy from the sea

Earlier this year they took over the lease of the Hotel Elpis with daughter EJ, determined to open it as a shelter. The couple’s refuge was doomed at heated meeting earlier this month with tourism officials.

Philippa told Daily Mirror: “It became clear that never, under any circumstances, will they allow the center to be used to assist refugees. They were openly hostile, they refused to look at us or address us directly and they resorted to banging on
tables and screaming.”

Eric had recently posted on Twitter and Facebook that they had receive death threats.

Kempson

According to reporting from Lesvos, the hotel at the touristic beach of Eftalou remained closed for years and was rented and repaired the British family through sponsorship from Western Europe. The Hope Centre planned to act as a “seaside haven for refugees.”

When officials from Greek Tourism Agency (EOT) moved to seal the hotel this morning, local police was deployed to assist them.

During the sealing process, on one side, there were the Kempsons and their supporters, primarily members of non-governmental organizations and caring citizens some 10 people, while on the other side there were residents and businessmen of Molyvos, some 150 people.

“We demonstrate the will of the residents of Molyvos to protect refugees from the greed of NGOs and to protect the local economy,” members of the Coordination Committee of Molyvos and the nearby village of Petra told ANA.

From the side of the Regional Tourism Service of Northern Aegean Sea, officials said that “Done was what it had to be done according to the Greek legislation with regards to the operation of a hotel complex,” and that the 10,000 euro fine was imposed to the Kempson family for “the illegal operation of the hotel, while a significant part of the fine was imposed because the family had obstructed the work of the tourism service staff when they visited to check the hotel.”

Philippa Kempson had told Daily Mirror, that the centre was at no point in operation as a hotel.”

Nevertheless, the conflict between the Kempsons and the local community seems to have a long past, and locals had already complained to the Prosecutor of the island last January claiming that the hotel turned into a refugee center would operate
in one of the most beautiful bathing beaches of Molyvos surrounded by many hotels and hostels.”

Furthermore, they claimed that the hotel was “not in operation for the last 8 years, bearing visible cracks on the walls and was in a very bad situation.” The residents had demanded from the prosecutor “to check the lease contract, if there was any, as well as the condition of the hotel and its potential legal operation, but mainly whether there was a legal permission for its operation.”

Local tourism operators and hotel owners complained to ANA about the location of the Hope Centre claiming that it would downgrade the area where tourism is main source of income for the community. “There are enough place in the broader area of thei island for such a project,” Nikos Molvalis form Lolyvos Tourism Agency said.

Two sides, two point of views. KTG is too far away for a good report and unfortunately had no time to contact Philippa.

Two sides standing against each other in a small local community. They may be both right and wrong.

And I believe, the local council and authorities would have never given a license to the Kempsons to operate the Hope Centre -whether as hotel for refugees or as a private refugee center.

Much to my knowledge, local councils have not given licenses for X or Y for much minor issues.

PS *sigh*

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7 comments

  1. Laurette LaLiberte

    There was some problem in Athens when we took over City Plaza, but we are still there. The right (and some on the left, even among our group) is saying the collectives ‘stole’ private property. The owner initially agreed to let us use it, thinking the state – (or the autonomous collectives who survive on donations?) would give her money, then got mad when she found that wouldn’t happen. She claims the presence of the refugees is keeping her from selling the place, which has been empty for several years, the government says she couldn’t sell it anyway, because they have a lien on it from back taxes and wages owed to former employees, who stand in solidarity with the refugees. The way things were done doesn’t really sit entirely well with me, but the majority of the people in City Plaza – 80% of them – are women with young children and unaccompanied minors who were living in the streets.

    • I’m glad to hear of these efforts you undertake, being able to provide this shelter despite these challenges. My heart (and money) goes out to these refugees, especially the children traveling on their own, I can’t imagine the insecurity and fear they must be facing living on the streets on their own in a foreign country.

  2. This is terrible news, all those people were doing was trying to help. We came across nasty opposition with Helping Hands of Rhodes, we had lots of international support but the locals were suspicious and jealous. In the end we had to close down our work. The refugees are still coming but without the expats involved it can be hidden from view so that tourism isn’t affected. We also found locals who were trying to profit financially from the situation…

  3. Careful ktg, I trust the people on Lesvos having worked for 4-5 years now with locals helping refugees there and receiving and helping them here in Athens. Yes, the crisis has been going on that long though on a smaller scale. What strikes me was that the Kempsons only decided to get involved 2 years ago – why so late? Secondly this statement: “We demonstrate the will of the residents of Molyvos to protect refugees from the greed of NGOs”. Too true! So before rushing to judge I would find out more. A lot is not explained here (not your fault), a lot is not clear. Wheels within wheels…

  4. This does not draw a nice picture of the Greeks, and is a larger turn off for visiting the country and island as a tourist, more than the refugee situation. The Greeks have since long lost their superiority wrt development of civilization being managed and hampered by laws and regulations being applied for circumstances they were not meant to regulate. I hope the fine will be withdrawn and the refugees continue to get some shelter, food and medicin.