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A massive fire shut down Europe's largest refugee camp, leaving 13,000 without shelter

The Moira Refugee Camp in Greece was set ablaze earlier this week. The call for European nations to take responsibility for those who have been displaced has grown stronger.

A massive fire shut down Europe's largest refugee camp, leaving 13,000 without shelter
Thousands of Migrants Displaced After Fire in Lesbos Camp. LESBOS, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 09. (Photo by Byron Smith/Getty Images)

The Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece, is Europe's largest. For months now, the facility has been overcrowded. Even after an overflow site, the Kara Tepe Refugee Camp, was built, there was little relief to the heavily-burdened resources at the Moria Camp. Earlier this week, fires broke out in three different locations of the camp, setting the facility ablaze. Some 20 odd firefighters tried to contain the inferno as thousands of migrants fled the area. Now, 13,000 refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, have no shelter. According to Greek authorities, it is believed that the fires were started by asylum seekers, but this is yet to be confirmed, BBC News reports.


Though the facility is designed to house only 3,000 migrants, it has been overflowing with many more refugees for several years now. As per local fire chief Konstantinos Theofilopoulos, fires broke out at three different places of the camp. The main blaze was initially fanned by high winds but thankfully put out by Wednesday morning. The chief did state, however, that there were still some small fires burning inside some containers at the facility. To local resident Thanasis Voulgarakis, it appeared as if the whole camp were on fire. "Now with the first light I can see that there is a few tents that make it, they are okay, but the rest of the camp, as I can see from this distance, is burnt out," they said.


Just last week, the camp was placed under quarantine after a Somali migrant tested positive for the coronavirus. At least 35 confirmed cases have been linked back to Moria Camp. Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said that the quarantine was the possible reason behind the fires, which he believed were started by the asylum seekers themselves. Nonetheless, he did not state that the fires were a deliberate act of arson with the intention of demolishing the camp. Michalis Fratzeskos, the deputy mayor for civil protection, also agreed that the fires were "premeditated." At the time the blaze began, the migrant tents were empty. He added that the people responsible had "taken advantage of strong winds."


Some migrants, however, claimed that the fires started as a result of scuffles between Greek forces and migrants at the camp. A handful of refugees blamed "far-right Greeks" for the blaze. Marco Sandrone, the Lesbos project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, said it was hard to accurately determine what had caused the fires as several different protests and fires had erupted in Moria Camp. He said people had been forced to live in "inhumane conditions" for a long stretch of time, even several years. He affirmed, "It's a time bomb that finally exploded."


Now, Greek authorities are scrambling to help the refugees, once again displaced, find shelter. One migrant from Afghanistan named Yaser explained that the fires had caused everyone to run. "We don't know where to go," he shared. "All the refugees are outside and trying to find a place to at least just stay." Therefore, the main priority at the moment according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was to help those without shelter. Prime Minister of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, offered to "take in 1,000 refugees," while about 400 teenagers and children have been flown to mainland Greece. A few thousand refugees will also be sheltered onboard two Greek naval vessels, but there are thousands more in need of help. The call for a European asylum system, urging all European nations to take equal responsibility, has thus grown stronger.


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