Greek island pleads for refugee evacuations after fire

The fire cleared out the camp, with Greek media showing images of women fleeing with babies in their arms

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Authorities of the island of Lesbos are calling for the immediate evacuation of thousands of refugees to the Greek mainland after a fire gutted a detention camp following protests. Nine migrants suspected of starting fire have been arrested, authorities said Tuesday.

Regional governor Christiana Kalogirou said she had repeatedly warned the government that camps on the east Aegean Sea islands were dangerously overcrowded.


More than 4,000 people were housed at the camp at Moria on Lesbos where fire which broke out late Monday destroyed or damaged tents and trailers. There were no reports of any migrants being injured.

The nine migrants were arrested on public disturbance charges after the chaotic scenes at the camp, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of the island’s main town.

Families with young children hastily packed up their belongings and fled into the nearby fields as the fire raged. Many were later given shelter a volunteer-run camps.

The government is expected to charter passenger ferries to provide temporary accommodation, and to increase the police presence on the five islands where refugees are being held.

“We have been saying for a very long time that overcrowding on the islands must be eased,” Kalogirou told private Skai television.

“On the islands of the northeast Aegean, official facilities have a capacity of 5,450 places, but more than 10,500 people are there. There is an immediate need to take people off the islands because things will get even more difficult.”

More than 60,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in transit in Greece, and those who arrived after March 20 have been restricted to five Aegean islands under a European Union-brokered deal to deport them back to Turkey. But the agreement has been fraught with delays.

“Last night’s fires at Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos symbolize the shortcomings of the European response to the refugee crisis,” said Panos Navrozidis, country director in Greece for the aid agency International Rescue Committee.

“Moria has been operating at over-capacity for months now with refugees crammed into the facility with limited infrastructure in place, limited access to water, and in conditions that do not meet humanitarian standards.”

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