Greek authorities on Thursday were racing to shelter thousands of asylum seekers left homeless on Lesbos after the island’s main migrant camp was gutted by back-to-back fires.
The migration ministry on Thursday said a ferry had been sent to temporarily accommodate hundreds of people, ahead of the expected arrival of European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas to inspect conditions on the island.
The first fire late Tuesday at Moria camp, Greece’s largest and most notorious migrant facility, sent thousands fleeing for safety into surrounding olive groves.
Nobody was seriously hurt, but the blaze initially destroyed the official part of the camp, which housed 4,000 people, ministers said. Another 8,000 lived in tents and makeshift shacks around the perimeter and many were badly damaged.
A second fire late Wednesday destroyed most of the remaining camp, the ministry said in a statement.
“Today all necessary actions will be taken to immediately shelter families and vulnerable persons to begin with,” the ministry said.
Two Greek navy vessels will provide additional sleeping berths, the ministry said.
Migration minister Notis Mitarachi on Wednesday said asylum-seekers had started the fire because of quarantine measures imposed after 35 people at the camp tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Officials have declared a four-month emergency on Lesbos and flown in additional riot police.
European countries from Germany to Norway – along with EU chiefs – have responded with offers of help, amid calls for urgent reform of the bloc’s asylum system.
Since becoming one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants and asylum-seekers in 2015, Greece has built dozens of detention centers around the country.
But with European nations accepting only a small trickle of refugees, thousands remain trapped in the Greek camps indefinitely, in usually dismal health conditions.
Greece’s conservative government has also toughened its asylum restrictions, slashing cash benefits and accommodation provisions to discourage further migration.