A riot and fire at the swamped Moria refugee and migrant camp on the island of Lesbos that ended with two dead set Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis scrambling to hold a meeting of his ministers on how to deal with the growing crisis as more arrivals are overwhelming Greece.
Nine men, six women and four children were also being treated for injuries and smoke inhalation after the violent outbreak that human rights groups warned was coming, with 10,000 people penned up in a facility built to house 2500 and simmering tension over asylum delays.
Different ethnic groups have clashed with each other and riot police but this unrest was one of the most violent, with the two victims not identified by the Health Ministry, which said, “None of the injured are at serious risk and they are expected to be released _from the hospital) within the next few days.”
The trouble began on Sept. 29 with anger over the living conditions that human rights groups and activists said are unfit for humans and hasn’t gotten better under the new New Democracy government which took over from the ruling ruling Radical Left SYRIZA after winning July 7 snap elections and vowing to improve conditions.
The government had aid that some 10,000 of the more than 28,000 refugees and migrants on the islands, sent there by human traffickers from Turkey, where they had first gone after fleeing war and strife in the Middle East and other countries would be moved to mainland camps.
The Moria camp was closed to more with a summer surge that saw the facility unable to deal with them, the new arrivals camping outside the gates in an olive grove, said Kathimerini in a report on the growing problems.
Medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres said it was “outraged” by the deaths of a child and a woman in a fire at the Moria migrant camp. “No one can call the fire and these deaths an accident. This tragedy is the direct result of a brutal policy that is trapping 13,000 people in a camp made for 3,000,” MSF field coordinator Marco Sandrone said.
“European and Greek authorities who continue to contain these people in these conditions have a responsibility in the repetition of these dramatic episodes. It is high time to stop the EU-Turkey deal and this inhumane policy of containment. People must be urgently evacuated out of the hell that Moria has become,” he added. MSF is assisting camp residents affected by the fire.
Deputy Citizens’ Protection Minister Lefteris Economou said another 250 people will be transferred from the camp to the mainland and said the transfers will be accelerated as the government had said there would be accelerated deportations to Turkey of those deemed ineligible for sanctuary in Greece, with the European Union closing its borders to them.
He said at least 3,000 people can be transferred to the mainland by the end of October although the moves technically violate a swap deal the EU has with Turkey, which has taken back only a relative handful since the agreement was signed three years ago and is essentially suspended.
According to Reuters, more than 9,000 people arrived in Greece in August, the highest number since the deal that abated the numbers had gone into effect but with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to unleash 5.5 million more on Greece unless the EU fulfills all the terms, including sending him another 3 billion euros ($3.28 billion.)
Another 8,000 arrived on Greek islands in September with a flood to get to Greece before the weather changes, seven dying when their craft sank in the Aegean, adding to the tragedy and the seemingly unstoppable phenomenon.
According to the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) the burnt body of a woman was taken to the island’s general hospital for identification, while police were trying to reach a burnt housing container to retrieve the second body, reportedly belonging to a child.
“We learned with deep sadness that the lives of a woman and a child were lost in a fire on Lesvos today,” the Greek branch of the UNHCR refugee agency, which is active on Lesbos, along with NGO’s, volunteers and activists, tweeted.
The fire inside the camp started shortly after 5 p.m., about 20 minutes after another blaze was set off in an olive grove just outside the facility where hundreds of asylum seekers who cannot be accommodated were living, the paper said.
The first fire was contained quickly but the second continued to burn for some time after firefighters reportedly came under attack by a group of migrants angered at their living conditions, the frustration boiling over into fury and with riot police also attacked.