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Fire Destroys Large Lesbos Refugee Camp, Leaving Nearly 13,000 Homeless

An immense fire devastated this Wednesday the Moria camp , on the Greek island of Lesbos, the largest refugee camp in Europe, with some 13,000 inmates. The fire started on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday – according to local authorities – due to a protest by refugees who refused to be detained after testing positive for covid-19.The flames, fueled by strong winds and also by frustration, administrative sloppiness and the lack of a common European migration policy, quickly spread through containers, tents, tents where refugees slept, medical dispensaries and hospitals. Administrative offices until most of it reduced to ashes. The little that remained standing was burned again on Wednesday afternoon in a new source of fire whose causes are still unknown. The Government has decreed a state of emergency.

“When the fire started at night we fled to the hills. We were very afraid, “said Clement, a Nigerian national, by phone. More than 12 hours after the fire broke out, he and dozens of people – many of them children – were still wandering around without food or water and looking for help. Another refugee, Hussein, explained that they took their documents and what little they could carry and tried to take refuge in the island’s capital, Mytilene, about four miles from the camp, but were blocked by the police. In fact, one of the first measures of the Athens Executive has been to send reinforcement agents to contain the migrants.

In principle no fatalities have been reported but several refugees were treated for smoke inhalation. “The situation is chaotic,” said Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, a volunteer who works with the local association Stand by me Lesvos, after visiting Moria early in the morning, when the firefighters had not yet finished putting down the flames together to a fire-fighting plane, “Thousands of people have been left without shelter to sleep.” That is the main problem now.
Despite requests to evacuate them, the government has prohibited refugees and migrants from leaving Lesbos for fear of contagion. UNICEF has accommodated 150 unaccompanied children in its facilities, out of the 407 who lived in the camp (a third of the 13,000 inmates in Moria are minors). The remaining unaccompanied minors will be evacuated to hotels in northern Greece, according to Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis. Another thousand, among the most vulnerable refugees, will be accommodated on a ferry moored in the port of Mytilene and tents have begun to be distributed to accommodate the rest, although according to information from the Greek channels, they will be insufficient to provide assistance to the entire refugee population of the island for at least the first days.

After an emergency meeting with part of his Cabinet, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, informed the European Commission of the situation, recalling that the migration issue “is a European problem.” “Our priority is the health and safety of all, migrants and residents,” said the conservative politician, who also criticized that “the difficult conditions” of the camp “cannot be an excuse for violent reactions.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged the European Union to take care of the migrants after this “humanitarian catastrophe” and distribute them among the member states that are willing to do so. Migration policies is one of the most difficult negotiations facing the current German presidency of the EU. The current pact proposal goes through a shielding of the borders, as well as formalizing the distribution quotas for refugees and migrants who mainly arrive in the countries of the South, something to which some of the Eastern European states vehemently oppose. The situation in Lesbos reveals that it is a debate that cannot wait.

Anyone who had visited Moria in recent years knew it was a time bomb waiting to explode , a reflection of the inability of the Greek and European authorities to manage migration flows. Initially built to house 2,800 people, it quickly became overcrowded and NGOs working on site began demanding solutions. In September 2016 there was a fire and its then 4,500 inmates had to be evacuated. Nothing was done. Tents, tents, containers continued to be set up and the Moria camp spread out into the surrounding olive groves and the population of the camp grew and grew. Last year there was another fire and two people died. The refugees protested and confronted the police. Nothing was done either.

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