Thousands of people are in immediate need of emergency shelter and assistance after a fire engulfed Europe’s largest refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos.
As the Greek government declared a state of emergency and a delegation of officials rushed to the northeastern Aegean island, the enormous scale of the damage caused by the overnight fire became even more apparent.
With the broken destruction of damaged facilities, burning of tents and black containers, Moria was gone. The camp whose crowded and unsanitary conditions have resulted in globalization since its inception in 2015 has been erased.
“At this moment the reception center was completely destroyed,” Greece’s acting foreign minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos told reporters, saying it was miraculously free of deaths or injuries. “As a result, thousands of people are homeless.”
Calling the situation an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis”, the politician said the pandemic coronavirus had created “extraordinary demanding” events on the island, mainly for refugees fleeing war-torn homeland for west. Witnesses reported frightened and traumatized residents fleeing to the top of the hill through thick, short smoke tied to the smell of burning plastic.
At least three dozen people living in the camp were diagnosed with Covid-19 before the fire broke out. Local islanders’ fears that the virus could spread have been exacerbated when authorities admitted that late Wednesday afternoon they found only eight of them.
Citing other government officials referring to the fire, Koumoutsakos said the fire broke out “as a result of dissatisfaction” with camp residents due to prolonged lockdown measures following a positive virus test for an asylum seeker seeking asylum.
Firefighters who rushed to the scene as the fire was blown by the force of the wind that engulfed the camp spoke about the fire that exploded alive in at least three places, indicating that it was accidentally lit.
“It exploded in many facets,” northern Aegean fire brigade chief Konstantinos Theofilopoulos told state-run TV channel ERT. As teams fought to put out the fire they “achieved resistance” from the fleeing rocks, he said.
In a national statement, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the Greeks that the four-month state of emergency meant “national funding and all national forces assisting” relief efforts on the island. “I recognize difficult circumstances,” he said, expressing grief at the fire. “However, there can be no reason for a violent reaction to health tests. And, moreover, for the chaos to this extent.”
EU-assisted initiatives are available to make “a bad experience …” the leader insisted on a better experience. As a state border Greece has carried too much “heavy weight” in dealing with the “European problem” of handling migrant waves, he said.
At dawn as firefighters struggled to put out the blaze, authorities threw a six-mile cordon around the camp to prevent former residents from trying to reach Mytilene, the island’s port city and home of most of its 85,000 population. Chaos police units were flown for reinforcements from Athens when Mitsotakis convened an emergency meeting of top ministers in his right-wing government.
“This is an atomic bomb,” said Michalis Frantzeskos, the island’s deputy mayor who oversees the protection of citizens, referring to the rates of infection that could possibly rise in the wake of devastating fires. “People went to the mountains, they were [scattered] saanman. “
For most of the day thousands of men, women and children were holding their savings and under the police guard were lined up on the main road connecting Mytilene to the camp.
The facility, which has been under Covid-19 lockdown since March, is more than four times the capacity when the inferno erupted, with nearly 13,000 people living there.
When night falls it is announced that nearly thousands of the most vulnerable refugees with disabilities and health problems will be hosted on a ferry as emergency workers seek to raise enough tents . Two ships will also be sent to the island on Thursday with nearly 3,500 tents providing temporary shelter, Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi said at a press conference.
“Moria as we know it cannot go on,” he said, promising that Athens will continue to create “closed” detention camps where people’s movements can be monitored more closely.
The prospect of facilities has been deplored by human rights groups.
The EU commissioner for home talks said Brussels would fund the transfer to mainland Greece of nearly 400 unaccompanied minors also hosted in Moria.
Long before the crisis of refugees, Lesbos became a magnet for men, women and children turning west from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and more and more west Africa.
Although the numbers dropped sharply from their peak five years ago, rickety boats crammed into people still arrived from Turkey, avoiding the increase in patrols when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has vowed to “open the gates” in Europe for hundreds of thousands of refugees.
More than 30 aid organizations, repeatedly describing Moria as a stigma in European consciousness, joined forces on Wednesday calling on continental leaders to “share responsibility for the acceptance and support of those seeking asylum is now more than ever “.