Blaze broke out in living container, exacerbating tensions inside the dangerously overcrowded Greek camp
A child has died in a fire in the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, according to the Hellenic Fire service. The fire broke out in one of the living containers situated inside the camp on Monday afternoon and was fanned by strong winds, but has since been brought under control.
The child has not been named and the cause of the fire is as yet uncertain.
Aziz, an Afghan who lives in the Moria refugee camp told the Guardian of the panic as the fire broke out. “I wasn’t in the camp at the time but my family lives in a container near where the fire was. When I heard that there was a big fire, I tried to go back into the camp but there were a lot of people trying to get out,” he said. “I was so shocked and I was just looking for my family. I went and saw a big fire and flames. Lots of people were in shock, lots were crying and everyone had their backpacks and were trying to leave and to get away from the fire.
“I went to our living container inside the camp walls and it was full of smoke but no one was there. Luckily I found my family but it was a horrible feeling. One of my friends wasn’t able to breathe from the smoke but they are OK now,” he said, “but please mention that a child has died here today.”
The refugee camp is thousands over capacity; designed to serve just under 3,000, there are now 19,343 people living in and around the official camp walls, according to recently released government statistics.
“Another fire broke out in Moria camp today spreading fear and panic to the camp’s residents,” said Stephan Oberreit, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in Greece, which operates a clinic outside the official camp walls. “This fire comes only two months after the fire in Kara Tepe camp and only five months after the fire in Moria camp in September 2019. These events show us one more time the dramatic impact they can have to the physical and mental health of people living in overcrowded and unsafe camps like Moria camp.
“European and Greek authorities who continue to contain people in such inhumane conditions have a responsibility in the repetition of these dramatic episodes. How many times we have to see the tragic consequences of this inhuman policy of containment before we urgently evacuate people out of the hell of Moria.”
Today’s fire has only added to an increasingly tense situation on Lesbos. In recent weeks many NGOs have had to reduce their services or temporarily evacuate staff in the wake of a spate of violence directed towards aid workers, refugees and journalists on the island. Those working on the ground told the Guardian they were concerned at the deeply unsettled mood in the camp.
The first case of Covid-19 confirmed in Lesbos last week, a local Greek woman from the town of Plomari, has only added to the uncertainty for the thousands living in appalling sanitary conditions in the camp with limited access to running water. In response to the pandemic Greece has suspended its asylum services until 10 April as well as closing all schools, universities, cafes and restaurants.
Douglas Herman, who runs Refocus Media Labs, training asylum seekers in media skills on Lesbos, told the Guardian he had been in contact with his students who live in the camp all day.
“Their photos and videos depict a tragedy, like so many others here, that [is] completely avoidable,” he said.
Erik Marquardt, a German MEP who was visiting the camp at the time said that the atmosphere was very tense. This fire, he said, showed that there should be an immediate evacuation of everyone living in the Moria refugee camp.
“Anyone who does not act now will be complicit in the catastrophe that is awaiting everyone here in Lesbos,” he told the Guardian.