Thousands homeless as blaze guts Greece’s main migrant camp

LESBOS ISLAND: Greece’s Lesbos island was plunged into crisis on Wednesday after thousands of asylum seekers were left homeless from a huge fire that gutted the country’s largest and most notorious migrant facility, Moria camp.
The civil protection agency declared a four-month emergency for the island of 85,000 people and Germany urged EU states to take in the camp’s survivors.
“With the European Commission and other EU member states that are ready to help, we need to quickly clarify how we can help Greece,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country holds the presidency of the bloc, said on Twitter.
“That includes the distribution of refugees among those in the EU who are willing to take them in,” he added.
EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said the bloc would finance “the immediate transfer and accommodation on the mainland of the camp’s remaining 400 unaccompanied children and teenagers.”
Norway on Wednesday offered to take in 50 Syrians from Moria — though Greece has currently banned the camp’s former residents from leaving the island.
An exception will be made for the 400 minors, a migration ministry source told state agency ANA.
Over 12,000 men, women and children had overnight fled in panic out of their containers and tents into nearby olive groves and fields as the fire destroyed most of the overcrowded, squalid camp.
The blaze started just hours after the migration ministry said that 35 people had tested positive at the facility, among 2,000 tests conducted on residents and staff.
The UN refugee agency said it had deployed staff to assist Greek authorities, noting that there were over 4,000 children among the displaced in addition to pregnant women and elderly people.
“We have been informed about reports of tensions between people in neighbouring villages and asylum seekers who were trying to reach Mytilene’s town. We urge all to exercise restraint,” the UNHCR said, calling on the camp’s former residents to stay in the area with efforts to find them shelter underway.
Citing anonymous police sources, Greek news agency ANA reported that the fires had started after a revolt by people who were to be placed in isolation, but there was no official confirmation.
A local town official said the perpetrators had taken advantage of strong winds and deliberately set tents on fire.
“It was premeditated. The tents were empty,” Michalis Fratzeskos, deputy mayor for civil protection, told state television channel ERT.
Firemen said there were no known casualties so far, although a number of people were suffering minor respiratory problems.
Dozens of people were milling among charred containers, some carrying away belongings, others snapping cellphone pictures. — AFP