Greece’s overcrowded migrant camp on Lesvos hit by more deliberate fires


Not much was left of the notoriously overcrowded Moria refugee camp on Thursday after a second blaze overnight destroyed almost everything that had been spared in the original blaze, leaving thousands more in need of emergency housing.Early in the morning, former residents of the country’s largest camp, which had been locked down against the coronavirus, returned to the area to pick up the charred remains of their belongings, collecting what they could. Many have spent the night sleeping in the fields, by the side of the road or in a small cemetery.

New small fires also broke out in the remains of tents erected outside the camp, fanned by high winds Thursday morning.

Authorities said the two fires at the Lesvos island camp were deliberately started, with the first Tuesday evening being started by residents angered by the quarantine measures imposed to contain a COVID-19 outbreak after 35 people have tested positive.

The blaze had left around 3,500 of the more than 12,500 people living in and around Moria homeless, and authorities flew into tents and provided a ferry and two Navy ships as emergency temporary accommodation.

Migrants flee Moria refugee camp in a fire Wednesday evening on the island of Lesvos in the northeast Aegean Sea in Greece. Dissatisfaction with the COVID-19 quarantine measures may have led to deliberate fires, authorities said. (Petros Giannakouris / The Associated Press)

But new fires broke out in intact parts of the camp on Wednesday evening, destroying most of what was left and sending thousands more to flow out of the facilities.

Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the second fire was also deliberately started and now left the vast majority of camp residents homeless.

“Some people don’t respect the country that hosts them and try to prove that they are not looking for a passport to a better life,” Petsas told reporters in Athens.

He said those who started the fires “did so because they believed that if they set Moria on fire, they would leave the island indiscriminately. We tell them that they did not understand. They will not leave because of the fire ”.

Unaccompanied minors sent to northern Greece

Petsas said the only residents of Moria who would be allowed to leave Lesvos were the 406 unaccompanied children and adolescents who were airlifted to northern Greece overnight.

Meanwhile, thousands of camp residents were sleeping on the streets by the side of the road near the emptied camp.

On a burning stretch of highway about a mile and a half from Moria camp, Leonie Raymon, a Cameroonian refugee, said he had not received any aid or food since fleeing the fires on Wednesday morning.

“Under the stars, I’m going to sleep under the stars like all these people here,” he said. “(I) have nowhere to go since everything burned down, so we slept outside and will continue here. ”

WATCH l A look at the camp after the 1st fires:

Thousands of migrants and refugees are homeless after a fire broke out and destroyed the Moria camp on the island of Lesvos, Greece. 0:48

Besides the main camp, Moria also consisted of a sprawling tent city that had grown in olive groves outside the main perimeter fence due to overcrowding. Much of it was burnt beyond repair on Thursday morning, with only the blackened frames of the tents remaining among charred olive tree trunks.

Aid agencies have long warned of harsh conditions in Moria, a facility built to house just over 2,750 people. The camp accommodates those fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia who arrive illegally in Lesvos from the neighboring Turkish coast. It has become a symbol of what critics say is Europe’s inability to deal humanely with the migration and refugee situation.

“Greece has been left alone to deal with the thousands of people arriving in our country. Lately, we have applied a policy of strict border control, with the help of European forces, and this policy has worked, ”Greek Minister of European Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told members of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday. of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Varvitsiotis said Europe’s new migration policy should focus on welcoming those in need of asylum, preventing unauthorized migrants from entering and repatriating people stuck in camps to their homes.

ÉCOUTER l The Current: On the ground report from Lesbos:

We chat with reporter Katy Fallon on the ground in Lesvos, Greece, where the country’s largest refugee camp, Moria, has burnt down amid a COVID-19 lockdown. 11:32

Europe, he said, should send a message to the islands and other peripheral regions so that they are not condemned to live on the borders of the European Union. “They shouldn’t have to tolerate unacceptable behavior. ”

In Athens, the migration ministry said when the second fire broke out on Wednesday, work was underway in Moria to ensure that no family was left homeless overnight. But the new fire forced the work to stop.

On Thursday, the ministry said that “all necessary measures will be taken to initially house vulnerable people and families in specially designated areas.”

Meanwhile, a group of residents angered by the situation and the camp’s presence in their area blocked a side road leading to the camp in an attempt to prevent access to equipment that could be used for reconstruction.

Moria has long been seen as a sad and embarrassing symbol of the failures of European migration policy.

(CBC News)

In the coming weeks, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, who is responsible for migration affairs, and European Migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson are due to unveil a new “migration pact” aimed at ending human migration. years of dispute over which countries should be responsible for handling migrant arrivals and whether their partners should be forced to help.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

“There is a terrible reality with these fires. Many children, women and men are in these camps in absolutely terrible conditions. We want to show our solidarity with Greece which is up to European values, ”Macron said.

Refugees and migrants carrying their belongings flee a fire that burns in the Moria camp on the island of Lesvos on Wednesday evening. Aid organizations have expressed concern over the conditions in the camp for several years. (Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters)

France, he said, aimed to offer to host certain minors in the camps.

“The coming hours will allow us to finalize the needs, in coordination with the Greeks, and a first coordinated Franco-German response, in the hope of involving as many other countries of the European Union as possible in this solidarity. ”

Since well over a million people entered Europe in 2015 – most of them refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq – the row over responsibility and solidarity has grown into one of the biggest political crises in the history of the EU.


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