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09.09.2020 Europe

Migrant hopes go up in smoke as Greece's Moria camp burns to the ground

By RFI
Migrant hopes go up in smoke as Greece's Moria camp burns to the ground
LISTEN SEP 9, 2020

Several fires destroyed large parts of an overcrowded migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in the early hours of Wednesday, forcing hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers to flee. Authorities are investigating reports of arson.

Moria is Greece's largest camp, home to more than 12,000 migrants and asylum seekers, four times its normal capacity, according to human rights groups who have for years lobbied the government to transfer people to the mainland.

The island of Lesbos, which lies just off the Turkish coast, has been on the front line of a large movement of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe over the last five years, many fleeing conflicts in Iraq and Syria in 2015 and 2016.

"The fire spread inside and outside the camp and has destroyed it," Stratos Kytelis, mayor of the port town of Mylinene told local radio.

Nearly the entire camp made up of tents and shipping containers was on fire, including in an olive grove outside the walls of the main compound, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

At least 28 firemen with 9 engines, aided by volunteers, battled the flames, but there were reports that some residents interfered with the emergency operations.

Police reportedly blocked migrants heading to the port town of Mytilene, leaving them stuck on the road, while Stand by Me Lesvos, a refugee support group, said on Twitter it had received reports that some of the island's Greek residents prevented fleeing asylum seekers from heading into a nearby village. 

Government spokesman Simon Petsas said reports of arson were under investigation and a state of emergency would be declared across the island.

Fears of Covid-19 spread
There are new concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, as the camp has seen a spike in infections since reporting its first case last Wednesday, when it was placed in lockdown, with 35 confirmed cases so far. 

Greek news agency ANA said the fires had broken out after some of the 35 had refused to move into isolation with their families but this is unconfirmed.

The crowded and unsanitary living conditions make social distancing and basic hygiene measures impossible to implement, according to aid groups.

The EU has agreed to finance the transfer of 400 unaccompanied teenagers and children to the mainland and their accommodation, according to EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

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