Fires have engulfed the Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, home to more than 13,000 people.
The camp which was designed for 3,000 people is the centre of an ongoing struggle between the influx of migrants and the pushback of the Greek authorities.Tensions have been high all year, exacerbated by violence from vigilante groups and allegations of widespread human rights violations.
Some 20 firefighters battled the flames at the camp as migrants fled, many suffering from smoke exposure. The Minister of Migration said the fire was the fault of the migrants but did not provide any further information.
Greek police blocked the roads around the camp, preventing the migrants from entering nearby towns or fleeing further with their belongings. Reporters on the ground said the migrants slept in nearby fields.
While the fire was extinguished, the damage to the camp was extensive. Johannson, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner pledged to finance the transfer of 400 unaccompanied teenagers and children to accommodation on the mainland. That leaves over 12,000 homeless as the rest of the camp is “burned out” according to witnesses.
It was also reported that some locals attacked migrants as they tried to escape to a safe distance from the blaze.
Last week, the camp was locked down after a migrant tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, a total of 35 cases were confirmed. It’s believed they may have started the fire due to the conditions in the camp and the imposed quarantine. This has not been confirmed.
Some of the migrants however, told the BBC that the fires started after a scuffle between migrants and Greek forces at the camp. They said it was started by “far-right Greeks” and provided images of canisters they said were used to start the fires.
Ursula von der Leyen said that the main priority was “the safety of those left without shelter”. The EU has said they will help with the response.
Greek authorities have been repeatedly asked to diffuse the situation at Moria. In 2018, the UNHCR said the situation was “at boiling point” with 8000 migrants. Now there are at least 5,000 more. Greece has been accused of not doing enough to tackle “acute overcrowding” at the site and not preparing to manage the COVID-19 situation there.