'This Fire Was Expected'

Europe's largest refugee camp, Moria, is largely destroyed in blaze
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2020 9:25 AM CDT
Updated Sep 9, 2020 2:33 PM CDT
The 'Final Straw,' Then a 'Humanitarian Disaster'
Fire burns container houses and tents in the Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)

Little of Europe's largest refugee camp has been left standing after a fire swept through on Tuesday night—with Wednesday night bringing more fires. The Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos is home to nearly 13,000 people, some 70% of them from Afghanistan but the rest hailing from more than 70 countries, reports the BBC. The New York Times cites a government rep who said Tuesday's fire "wasn't accidental," with officials saying camp residents started it. The blaze followed news that camp residents were going to be made to quarantine after some three dozen COVID-19 cases emerged. A protest broke out, and the fire picked up speed due to what the AP describes as gale-force winds and the presence of gas canisters. More:

  • The camp's formal infrastructure has largely been destroyed, along with a unit that housed 400 unaccompanied children. An aid worker tells the Times "there are thousands of people just sitting on the main road" with nowhere to go, though many children have been placed in hotels or other "safe zones" on the island. The BBC reports police have closed down roads exiting the camp to prevent migrants from entering adjacent towns.
  • The AP reports that fire again erupted in the camp on Wednesday night, specifically in the portions that hadn't burned in the first fire. An AP photographer on the scene described more people pouring out of the area with their things in tow.

  • The AP gives context to the situation, which dates to a 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey intended to cut down on the mass flow of refugees into Europe. Those reaching places like Lesbos from Turkey are, under the deal, held there until they're either deported home or have their asylum request granted (the Times notes that for many, it's seemingly an "interminably complex asylum application process").
  • But while it did cut the number of arrivals in general, there's still massive overcrowding; Moria's capacity is just over 2,750.
  • That's led to growing resentment among Greek locals and a ramp-up in expulsions of new arrivals by the Greek government this year. Per the Times, more than 1,000 people have been abandoned in rafts at sea.

  • "This fire was expected," says Eva Cosse with Human Rights Watch. "It's not surprising. It's a testament to the European Union's negligence and Greece's negligence."
  • Mission Lifeline co-founder Axel Steier tells CNN much the same thing: "The people in Moria are exposed to extreme psychological stress. The lockdown of the camp has now been the final straw. The refugees in Moria are not treated as humans." CNN notes that camp residents say they can spend the entirety of the day in line for food, or hours in a line for the bathroom. When CNN reported from the camp earlier this year, it observed: "A rank odor filled the air, the river was strewn in garbage, and camp dwellers staged protests at the island's main port on a nearly daily basis demanding transport to the Greek mainland."
  • Al Jazeera adds that aid groups have long been critical of the conditions at Moria, which "make physical distancing and basic hygiene measures impossible to implement."
  • As for the EU's response, the BBC flags a tweet from German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who calls the situation a "humanitarian disaster" and says, "We have to clarify as quickly as possible with the EU Commission and other helpful EU member states how we can support Greece. This also includes the distribution of refugees among those willing to accept admission in the EU."
(More refugees stories.)

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