Fires have ravaged Europe’s largest migrant camp, leaving about 12,000 people without shelter.
Fanned by high winds, the blaze first broke out Tuesday at Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Large stretches of the camp burned down. Only a medical facility and some small clusters of tents were left standing, according to the New York Times. No deaths were initially reported.
The fires continued through Wednesday, leaving most of the camp’s residents homeless. Police reinforcements were brought in to prevent people fleeing the fires from reaching the island’s main town of Mytilene, Al Jazeera reported. The camp’s residents, many of them refugees who fled Afghanistan or Syria, have been forced to sleep along roadsides and in fields and parking lots.
The notoriously overcrowded camp had been in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is unclear how the fires started. Greek authorities said the fires may have been lit as a protest against mandatory quarantine measures. Some migrants told the BBC the fires broke out after scuffles between camp residents and Greek forces, and blamed “far-right Greeks” for the blaze.
Human rights groups warned the camp was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic because it was dangerously overcrowded, with a lack of access to water, healthcare, and sanitation. Residents had protested the appalling living conditions.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on the European Union to take action to help solve the housing crisis. France, Germany, and the Netherlands have so far offered to take in some migrants.