Fire destroys Camp Moria: “It has disappeared”

13,000 people lose their shelters as the tensions grow in the Greek island of Lesbos. Christian aid workers demand effective solutions and “not repeating the same mistakes”.

Evangelical Focus , Jonatán Soriano


Residents of the Moria Camp leave the place after the fire that destroyed the place on 9 September 2020. / Remar,
Residents of the Moria Camp leave the place after the fire that destroyed the place on 9 September 2020. / Remar

The refugee camp of Moria in the Greek island of Lesbos, has been destroyed after massive fires broke out early Wednesday.

It is still unclear how the fires began and there are no reports of injuries yet, as the authorities have said they are still assessing the scope of the damage.

The camp was placed under quarantine last week, after a refuge tested positive for the coronavirus. There were 35 confirmed cases so far, but authorities said the number may well be larger, because tracing had not been completed by the time the fire broke out overnight.


“We are unsure where we will be placing them”

Moria holds nearly 13,000 refugees from more than 70 different countries, more than four times the number it can officially hold. “We are taking every measure possible to protect them. We’ve got tents here and are bringing in others from surrounding isles but right now we are unsure where we will be placing them”, said Manos Logothetis, the migration ministry’s General Secretary.

According to the local fire chief, Konstantinos Theofilopoulos, “fire broke out in more than three places in a short space of time. Protesting migrants hindered firefighters who tried to tackle the flames”. Michalis Frantzeskos, the island’s deputy mayor in charge of citizens’ protection, defined the fire as “an atomic bomb”, and pointed out that “people have headed to the mountains, they’re scattered everywhere”.

The fires started in one more than one location. The premises of Christian NGO Remar were destroyed. / Remar

The fires started in several locations at the same time. The premises of Christian NGO Remar were destroyed. / Remar

State of emergency

The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has convened an urgent meeting of cabinet ministers, who are now heading to Lesbos to assess the situation.

Furthermore, Stelios Petsas, the government spokesman said reports of arson were under investigation and a state of emergency would be declared across the island. He has also confirmed that the government has forbidden any Moria resident to leave the country.


Christian NGO Remar: “It is clear that it has been an arson”

The coordinator in Greece of the evangelical NGO Remar, Pablo Fernández, told Spanish news website, Protestante Digital, that “it is still too early to know the real consequences of what happened. With such a big fire, that has burned until first hour in the morning, affecting so many people, we will have to wait a few days to be certain that there are no deaths”.

Furthermore, several NGOs working on the ground have explained that the anger of the residents is due to the terrible confinement conditions they experience in the camp, without enough water or basic facilities, in addition to the rejection of the natives of the island and the attacks of different xenophobic groups in recent months.

Fire destroys Camp Moria: “It has disappeared”

Thousands have lost their shelters after the fire. / EuroRelief Facebook

It is clear that it has been an arson, because it has spread simultaneously, from several points. The camp was already in quarantine, so it could not have been outsiders”, Fernández pointed out.


Bad management of the lockdown

Fernández explained that “there has been very much tension, because there are approximately 120 positives on the island, but the bars and restaurants are open. The only thing that is completely closed is the camp”.

“The residents complained about the lack of freedom, because they were the only ones locked up, and some wanted to expel those infected to regain freedom of movement. But even if they were expelled, the camp would still be closed because it is not known who can have it. There is a lot of accumulated tension”, he added.

GAiN, another Christian NGO that works in the camp through a collaboration with EuroRelief, also assured that a large part of this tension is related to the bad management of the impact of the pandemic in the camp.

“After the first cases, more than 13,000 already desperate people were confined in a space with inhuman conditions. That is a time bomb”, said the director of the entity in Spain, Miqueas Forster.


“The camp has disappeared”

It is not the first time that a fire took place in Moria. In September 2016 a fire already caused serious damage in the area. “There have been major fires in the past and it is known that the organization of the space and the tents does not meet the minimum quality standards for a settlement of this type”, Forster recalled.

Fire destroys Camp Moria: “It has disappeared”

The efforts to stop the fires had little effect. / Remar

However, this time the camp has disappeared. It is not the first time that Moria burns or that a fire started inside the camp, but on other occasions it has been controlled and it has been extinguished before it affected the infrastructure. But this has been massive, it has taken everything”, Fernández underlined.

He explained that “Remar's facilities in the camp have been totally destroyed. It's a shame. A month ago we had just renovated the infrastructure. We had changed the tents, the floor and we had made a several reforms to improve the place. And now it has been devastated”.

On the other hand, none of the six members of the NGO team on the island has been injured. This morning they went out again with the van with which they distribute the catering to take care of the evacuees.

Fernández describes the desperate situation of most of the migrants and refugees that are now crowded together alongside the 2 kilometres long road that connects the camp and the nearest village. “Those who are here in Moria already had little. Now they find themselves with almost nothing. Some have lost their documents, the most precious thing, because the asylum process is very slow. Also clothes and other utensils have disappeared. Most are desperate”, says the Remar aid worker.

“The first step now is to evaluate the most urgent needs and define how to respond to these”, adds Forster. NGOs are waiting to see how the Greek government will react, because that would help define an “action frame” to respond to the emergency. “Europe has to take action, define a common plan and respond. Just looking away does not make the problem disappear”, the GAiN Spain director argues.


The difficulties to find an agreed solution

Many organisations working with refugees are again calling to dismantel the Moria camp to build smaller settlements which would better distribute the refugees and migrants in Lesbos. But finding an agreed solution continues to look difficult.

The only political proposal has been to move the 13,000 people to a nearby beach. Reality is that “the camp will not be accessible for at least one week. The cleaning work, which will include the removal of the containers and other infrastructures, will be a long and heavy task”, says Fernández.

Fire destroys Camp Moria: “It has disappeared”

New tents for the migrant and refugee families are one of the first priorities after the disaster. / EuroRelief Facebook

According to the leader of Remar NGO in Greece, the polarisation of opinions about the reception of asylum seekers complicates the situation further. “Many here in the zone and those who are against having refugees here now use the fire to express their complaints even louder. There is much tension”.

“To cover the first and urgent needs of the people affected (clothes, food and a shelter) should be the priority now”, says the representative of GAiN. “The Greek government will have to decide how they manage the situation. Investing in a future with renewed hopes for these 13,000 people, or repeating the same mistakes?”, asks Forster.


What's next?

“For the refugees, staying in Moria is not appropriate”, repeats Fernández. “This is a camp with a capacity for 3,000 people had previously reached the figure of 20,000 (…) It was inhumane before when there were infrastructures, so imagine how it would be now, with just some tents and little more. The fact that the camp is on the side of a hill, makes it difficult to perform improvements”.

For the cooperant aid worker, one solution would be to renew the facilities and relocate them in the same island. “The best would be to find an esplanade where heavy machinery work could be performed, to adapt the space. This was put on the table when there was the change in the Greek government, but it never happened because many complained. Perhaps the government will now use what happened to pick up this proposal. But the truth is we don’t know what will happen next”.

ACNUR, the United Nations Agency for Refugees, has issued a statement asking the residents of the Moria Camp to “restrict their movement and remain close to the camp while a temporal solution is found to give them shelter”.

European Commission Vice-President, Margaritis Schinas, pointed out that he had spoken to Mitsotakis to tell him that the commission was “ready to assist Greece directly at all levels during these difficult times”.

Meanwhile, EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, underlined that she had agreed to finance the transfer of 400 unaccompanied teenagers and children to the mainland and their accommodation. “The safety and shelter of all people in Moria is a priority”, she tweeted.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - europe - Fire destroys Camp Moria: “It has disappeared”

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