Once again a fire broke out in the overcrowded migrant camp Moira on Lesbos, a day after large fires had made thousands of people homeless there.
The fires started in the early evening north of the official camp, an area with tents and cabins that had not yet been affected by the fire. Due to the strong wind, the fire spread quickly
Also tonight people fled with their paltry possessions.
Outside the camp, migrants clashed with the police. Many hundreds of migrants wanted to go to the port of Mytilini, to board ships to the mainland. When they were stopped, they started throwing stones, on which the police used tear gas. Meanwhile, the fire in the camp spread.
CCeit editor Heleen d’Haens is on Lesbos and saw all kinds of groups of people in a village a few kilometres from the camp. “Congolese with everything they had on their heads and Afghan families. They’d all brought a little bread from the camp.” D’Haens saw hundreds of people and agents guarding them. “Some are hoping that tomorrow they can be taken from there to Athens and travel further into Europe. Others were lying down and didn’t know at all what their plan was.”
There was also a protest from residents, mainly young men, but also women, in the village of Moria near the camp. “Those people had suffered a lot from theft and petty crime. By setting fire to their own camp and destroying everything, the migrants went too far, the residents said.”
There were no casualties in last night’s fires, but the Greek government estimates that some 3,500 migrants were left homeless. There is room for less than 3,000 people in the camp, but an estimated 13,000 remained.
After the fires, chaos arose. Migrants fled the camp and camped in olive groves and along roads. The police blocked the roads to prevent the migrants from reaching towns and villages.
Law and order
The Greek government assumes that the fires were set by residents of the camp and that migrants also obstructed the fire brigade. The Minister of Migration said in Lesvos that the exact cause of the fires is still being investigated, but that it is certain that they were caused by asylum seekers in the camp.
He warned that the perpetrators will not go unpunished. “Such behaviour is unacceptable and we will not allow it. Respect for law and order is a necessary condition for the right to asylum”
Tensions in the camp increased further in recent days due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. A man from Somalia seems to have brought the virus into the camp last week. Yesterday 35 camp residents tested positive. They had to leave the camp with their families and have themselves placed in isolation. Some of them refused, while migrants who were not infected wanted to flee the camp. When they were stopped, protests broke out. Many infected migrants and their families got away in the chaos.
The Greek government, with financial support from the EU, is transferring 400 children and teenagers without parents from the camp to the mainland. A thousand migrants can be accommodated on a large ferry near the island. Two naval ships are also used to receive people. For the other homeless, tents are brought to the island.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis says the fire shows that the situation in Moria cannot continue, but there are no plans to move the residents to other islands or to the mainland, and other EU countries are not prepared to take over the migrants.
Political parties in the Lower House want the Cabinet to investigate how vulnerable children from the Moria migrant camp on Lesbos can be received on the Greek mainland as soon as possible.
According to a deal made between the EU and Turkey in 2016, Turkey will take back migrants arriving on the Greek islands, with the EU taking in one Syrian asylum seeker from Turkey for every migrant that Turkey takes back. In practice, this leads to overcrowded reception camps on Greek islands near the Turkish mainland, such as Lesbos. An essential part of the deal is also that the migrants are not allowed to go to the Greek mainland, from where they can try to enter further into Europe.