The fifth fire since March in a Greek island refugee and migrant detention camp – this one on Chios – left widespread damage and many people without a place to shelter after the death of an Iraqi woman raised fears it was related to COVID-19 before it was found it wasn’t.
The blaze at the Vial refugee camp on Chios island destroyed the facilities of the European asylum service, a canteen, warehouse tents and many housing containers, Greek Migration Ministry Secretary Manos Logothetis said, the British newspaper The Guardian and Kathimerini reported.
“A large part of the camp’s administrative services was destroyed,” said Logothetis, adding that no injuries were reported.
Three asylum seekers were arrested as responsible for the destruction while police told the Greek paper that a number of people had been detained after a report that a group started throwing stones at police, burned two cars, tents, a food truck and some containers used to house people, bringing in the fire service to put out the flames.
On April 16 a 47-year-old woman from Iraq was transferred to the island’s hospital where she was treated for an unspecified illness and fever. The woman tested negative for the virus and was sent back to the camp but then returned to the hospital and died.
The UN refugee agency’s spokesperson in Athens Boris Cheshirkov said the damage was still being evaluated but that many camp residents were likely to have been left homeless.
“Authorities are still assessing the damages but a few hundred people are likely affected because their shelters have burned down. We have donated tents to the authorities which can quickly be put into use and we will assist in replacing the warehouse tents,” he said, The Guardian said.
Migrant camps in Greece have been under quarantine in recent weeks, with authorities trying to keep their residents away from locals amid fears the virus could spread in crowded conditions, with camps on five islands holding some 42,000 people.
Like all Greece’s island camps, Vial is overcrowded with more than 5,000 people living in a space intended for around 1,000. More than 100,000 people seeking asylum have been stuck in Greece for two years or more after the European Union closed borders.
The migration ministry has said it will begin moving hundreds of elderly and ailing asylum seekers out of the island camps to protect them from coronavirus.
Earlier in April, a fire in the Moria Reception and Identification Center on Lesbos burned down three tents. It was believed to have been caused by a short-circuit and is the third in a month starting with March 16, when a seven-year-old girl died.
A third facility being operated by volunteer groups at a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos was destroyed by a fire, this one on March 30, with officials investigating whether it could be arson as resistance builds over housing refugees and migrants during the COVID-19 crisis.
The storage building destroyed belong to the locally based non-governmental organization called Stand By Me Lesbos, media reports said, with the website Sto Nisi, reporting it held equipment and clothing and a tent used to hold educational services.
It was in the notorious Moria camp that human rights groups said has some 18,000 people packed in inhumane conditions in an area designed to hold one-sixth that many and with another 2,000 in tents and makeshift shelters outside.
A first blaze on March 1 destroyed a facility called Stage 2 that had been set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to hold migrant and refugee arrivals landing in the area of Skala in Sykamia.
A week later, a facility run by the Swiss NGO One Happy Family near the municipality run refugee camp of Kara Tepe was destroyed in what officials said was an attack.