Newly built Austrian refugee shelter set on fire, says Red Cross


VIENNA: A building in northern Austria that was due to house dozens of asylum seekers was deliberately set on fire, the Red Cross said on Wednesday, a rare case of violence against a refugee centre in a country that has taken in a large number of migrants.

The new wooden building in the town of Altenfelden, near Austria’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic, caught fire overnight. The Red Cross, which owns the building, later confirmed arson was the cause.

“It was a shock for us,” Red Cross spokesman Stefan Neubauer said, adding that 48 people had been due to move into the building in two weeks’ time. “It was an act of vandalism with which we have not been confronted yet.” Wooden buildings are being used as a cheaper form of accommodation in Austria, which last year took in 90,000 asylum seekers, more than one per cent of its population, and has scrambled to house them in decent conditions.

Europe’s migration crisis has heightened public concerns about security and jobs, fuelling a rise in support for far-right parties in Austria, Germany and other European countries.

Despite the growing popularity in Austria of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, whose presidential candidate Norbert Hofer narrowly lost a run-off election last week, violent attacks on new immigrants and centres for them are rare.

“We want to build a new house on the same site,” Neubauer said, estimating the damage at 300,000 euros ($335,190).

Over 100 migrants land on Greece’s Crete island

A group of 113 mostly Afghan migrants has landed on Greece’s biggest island Crete, officials said on Wednesday, the first big arrival on the island since the migrant crisis began.

Crete, Greece’s southern-most island, lies north of Libya and Egypt. The migrants said they had set off from Antalya on Turkey’s south-western coast, some 260 nautical miles away, police and coastguard officials said.

Warm weather and calmer seas in the Mediterranean have led to a surge in recent weeks in the number of people trying to cross to Italy from Libya, where people-smugglers operate with relative impunity.

However, with the much longer journey, there is more chance of boats being blown off course to islands such as Crete, a Greek coastguard official on the island said.

“We fear that when boats start filling up and they sail north or south of the island, accidents may cause them to wash ashore on Crete whereas their aim is to reach Italy,” Commander Spyros Aggelakis told Reuters.

The 113 were discovered on a beach north-east of the island on Tuesday after their boat ran aground near the coast, police said. Two suspected smugglers from Croatia and Montenegro travelling with the group were also arrested.

A separate group of 64 migrants and refugees, among them 17 children, landed on Crete last Friday.

More than a million migrants and refugees from Syria and beyond arrived in Greece from Turkey in the past year, most taking the shorter journey on dinghies to Lesbos just few miles away.

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