Chíos (Grèce) (AFP)
Four young Afghan asylum seekers were tried in Greece on Friday on charges of starting the devastating fires that burned down Europe’s largest migrant camp last year.
Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesvos housed more than 10,000 people before being destroyed by two fires in September 2020.
The four Afghans, who are on trial on the neighboring island of Chios, are charged with arson causing risk to human life and belonging to a criminal group.
A legal source told AFP the four could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty on both counts.
No media were allowed to enter the courtroom due to coronavirus precautions.
The defendants arrived at the court around 9:30 am (06:30 GMT), escorted by police officers and handcuffed in pairs.
Two other young Afghans were jailed in a prison near Athens for five years for the same case in March.
Defense lawyers for Afghans appearing on Friday argued that their clients had not received a fair trial.
They say three of them had documents showing they were under 18 at the time of their arrest, but were not recognized as minors by the Greek state.
The trial is based largely on the testimony of another Afghan asylum seeker who identified the six as the perpetrators.
Defense lawyers said the witness was not in court on Friday and did not appear at trial last March because he could not be located.
The defendants say they were targeted by the witness, a Pashtun ethnic group, as all six are Hazaras, a minority long persecuted in Afghanistan.
The other prosecution witnesses are police officers, firefighters called to the scene in September 2020 and staff from the European Asylum Service and non-governmental groups working in the camp.
Built in 2013 to accommodate a maximum of 3,000 people, Moria camp became severely overcrowded in 2015 as a huge wave of people started arriving on the Greek islands on small boats from neighboring Turkey.
The camp, which houses asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia seeking a better life in the European Union, has quickly become synonymous with misery and violence.
The two fires broke out on September 8 and 9 last year as tensions mounted in the camp over the coronavirus pandemic.
Witnesses told AFP that a dispute erupted as some 200 migrants refused to self-quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 or coming into contact with an infected person.
Around 13,000 asylum seekers, including families with children, pregnant women and people with disabilities, had to sleep in the open air for a week after the camp was destroyed.
Authorities have since built a temporary camp on Lesvos which accommodates around 6,000 people.
The EU has allocated 276 million euros ($ 336 million) to build a new permanent camp on Lesvos and for similar facilities on the islands of Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros
Around 10,000 asylum seekers currently live on these five Aegean islands near Turkey, the vast majority of them hoping to settle elsewhere in the EU.
© 2021 AFP