By Mark Ellis —
Fires apparently set by arsonists destroyed Greece’s largest migrant camp, an overcrowded site on the island of Lesbos, leaving nearly 13,000 people without shelter.
The Moria camp was originally designed to hold 3,000 people, and swelled to 19,000 at the height of the refugee crisis affecting southern Europe. In parts of the camp there was only one water faucet to serve 1,300 migrants, according to a report by the BBC.
The camp is northeast of Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos. About 70% of people in the camp are from Afghanistan but refugees from more than 70 different countries live there, according to InfoMigrants.
Recently, a quarantine was imposed on the facility after a Somali immigrant tested positive for Covid-19 and the virus appeared to be spreading. “Some of the 35 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 had reportedly refused to move into isolation with their families,” according to the BBC.
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told the BBC the “incidents in Moria began with the asylum seekers because of the quarantine imposed.”
Running from the flames, refugees attempted to flee to nearby towns, but local authorities blocked roads from the camp to prevent them from entering. “Many attempted to carry their belongings to the port town of Mytilene but access was cordoned off. Reports suggest many slept in fields after the fire.”
One Greek official, Michalis Fratzeskos, said the fire was “premeditated.” He reported that migrant tents had been emptied and arsonists had “taken advantage of strong winds.”
Some refugees said the fire had broken out after fights between migrants and Greek forces at the camp.
“Several blamed ‘far-right Greeks’ for the blaze after the announcement of Covid cases and took photos of what they said were canisters used to ignite the flames,” according to the BBC.
Marco Sandrone, Lesbos project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told the BBC it was difficult to say what had caused the blaze, with several different fires and protests erupting in the camp. “It’s a time bomb that finally exploded,” he said, adding that people had been kept in “inhumane conditions” at the site for years.
Fires broke out in more than three places in a short space of time within the camp, a local fire chief told ERT TV. Some migrants hindered firefighters who tried to extinguish the flames, he said.
The mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis, said it was “a very difficult situation because some of those who are outside will include people who are positive [for coronavirus]”.
About 3,000 people are being temporarily housed in tents on Lesbos until alternative shelter can be found, officials said.