Fires Devastate Greek Refugee Camps

Shweta Parthasarathy
Staff Writer

On Tuesday, September 8, the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was the site of a massive fire that displaced thousands of its residents. As The New York Times reports, the fire on September 8 displaced a vast majority of the 12,000 residents, and a smaller fire that broke out the following night displaced another 1,000.

The BBC and The New York Times report that the Greek government is pointing the finger at migrants who protested the lockdown conditions instituted after 35 migrants at the Moria camp tested positive for COVID-19. The camp’s residents have denied the allegation and instead place the blame on “hostile locals,” reports the BBC. The fires have added another layer of animosity to the already tense relationship between residents of the Moria camp and locals from the island.

According to The New York Times, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the September 8 fires, the camp housed more than 20,000 residents. The pandemic then accelerated the relocation of migrants, but the number of residents remained at 12,600 just before the fire. The government has established another system of tents in a new, seaside camp in order to facilitate the relocation of migrants from the Moria camp. However, residents fear it may just be a repeat of the challenges faced at Moria. Mahbube Ahzani, a 15-year-old migrant living in the Moria camp, told The New York Times, “I think sleeping on the street is bad, but Moria is bad-bad,” even adding that the seaside camp would just be the “new Moria.”

However, these tents are meant to only be temporary, with the ultimate goal being to relocate the migrants to mainland Greece. Michalis Chrysochoidis, the Minister of Citizen Protection of Greece, told The Guardian, “Of the roughly 12,000 refugees here currently, I foresee 6,000 being transferred to the mainland by Christmas and the rest by Easter.” Currently, most residents displaced by the fires are being temporarily housed in seaside camps, a ferry, and two navy ships, as reported by the Associated Press.

According to the Associated Press, in the days following the fires, thousands of German citizens marched in cities across Germany in support of the refugees. In response, the German government agreed to take in 1,553 migrants from Moria, as well as 150 unaccompanied minors, reports the BBC. According to Reuters, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the fires as “a humanitarian disaster” and encouraged European Union member states to accept refugees coming from the overcrowded and underfunded camp. The New York Times furthers that Armin Laschet, the governor of a region in western Germany, indicated a willingness to accept 1,000 refugees from the camp. Boris Pistorius, a prominent member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and the interior minister of the northern German state of Lower Saxony, has called for the Moria camp to be shut down, telling Reuters that Moria “is the symbol of the failure of Europe’s asylum policy.”

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