A huge fire that broke out overnight in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is home to some 13,000 refugees, has caused inmates to flee en masse. Earlier in the morning of this Wednesday, several fire brigades had controlled the fire but it was still active in parts of the camp, which has been practically destroyed. According to local authorities, the fire started after a protest by refugees who had been forced to isolate themselves after three dozen cases of COVID-19 were detected.
“The situation is chaotic. I just came from there and the central part of the field was still burning. Several areas, more than a third of the field, have been completely reduced to ashes. Thousands of people have been left without shelter to sleep ”, explained by phone Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, a volunteer who works with the local association Stand by me Lesvos, at 9:00 am local time (one hour less on the Peninsula).
No fatalities have been reported but, according to local media, some refugees have had to be treated by medical services after inhaling large amounts of smoke. Some 25 firefighters and 10 trucks have been dispatched to fight the flames while anti-riot police forces have been deployed on the road leading to the island’s capital, Mytilene, some six kilometers away, to prevent refugees from escaping there. . According to Stand by me Lesvos, residents of the island also spread out on the road and blocked it, hindering the work of the firefighters.
The government manager for the refugee camps, Manos Logothetis, affirmed that the camp has been completely evacuated and that now the challenge is to find accommodation for the 13,000 people who inhabited it, EFE reported. According to the Greek media, the possibility of moving them to a nearby beach is being considered until a solution is found.
Last week, the Government decreed a strict quarantine in the Moria camp after detecting the first case of coronavirus, while on Tuesday the number of infected had risen to 35 (outside the camp, among the local population of Lesbos, there are another 50 cases assets). Doctors Without Borders (MSF) harshly criticized the measure as “counterproductive” and Oxfam warned of the risk of a “catastrophe” due to the “inhumane conditions” in which the Moria refugees live, 40% of whom are children.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, NGOs have demanded the dismantling of Moria and the transfer of its inmates to smaller, better-prepared camps or facilities given that in Moria there is not enough water, soap or toilets for the entire population. Maintaining a safe distance is impossible in a field originally planned for 2,500 people but which houses five times as many. There was only one toilet for every 160 refugees and one shower for every 500, and the tents and prefabricated cabins housed between 15 and 20 people.
In April, the Greek Government had promised to solve the situation and, since then, has transferred to the continent a thousand refugees from risk groups, but according to NGOs there are still several hundred people in Moria for whom, due to their age or previous illnesses, a coronavirus infection could be fatal.
In statements to the Skaï channel, the mayor of the town of Moria, Yiannis Mastroyiannis, assured that the fire broke out after 35 people who had tested positive for coronavirus refused to be transferred to an isolation area. “The new quarantine has made people very angry, especially since communication has not been transparent. They have been without enough water for months and locked in the field. Security, especially at night, is terrible and some mafias have proliferated, so when yesterday they took these people to an area of total isolation without explaining why, there were protests, “said Von der Osten-Sacken.
Apparently, the first outbreak of the fire was caused by this protest, although the volunteer assures that later other outbreaks occurred in other parts of the field and the surroundings that could have been caused by outsiders. “There is a lot of opposition to the Moria camp and in recent months there have been arson attacks whose responsibility has not been clarified,” he adds.
A government spokesman quoted by the public channel ERT explained that an investigation into the fire has been initiated and reported that a state of emergency will be decreed throughout the island, where there are also two other active fires whose extinction makes it difficult for the wind. The prime minister, the conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has called an emergency meeting with the ministers of Civil Protection, Interior, Health and Immigration to discuss the situation.