Thousands of migrants on the Greek island of Lesvos were left homeless on Wednesday after a huge fire that devastated Moria, Greece's largest refugee camp, in the early hours of the morning, where they crowded nearly 12,700, or four times the capacity of the site.


A huge fire ravages Greece's largest refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, home to more than 12,500 migrants.

A large-scale rescue operation is underway because almost the entire camp is on fire: the refugee tents, the administrative buildings, and the surroundings also where migrants occupied makeshift shelters because the site is overcrowded, welcoming. four times its capacity.

What happened ?

On Wednesday, men, women and children panicked out of tents and containers to take refuge in the surrounding olive groves, as the fire raged in the overcrowded camp.

The fire broke out hours after authorities announced that 35 people had tested positive for Covid-19.

Several hours after the start of the fire, black smoke continued to rise from the camp, which houses nearly 12,700 asylum seekers.

Dozens of people wandered among the charred containers, some removing belongings, others taking pictures using their cell phones. 

According to the local news site Lesvospost, more than 3,000 tents, thousands of containers, administration offices and a clinic within the camp were burnt.

The firefighters claimed to have "been prevented from entering the camp to intervene" by certain groups of refugees, and to have called on the police to be able to continue the rescue operation.

Why did the fire start?

James, a Congolese migrant, told Europe 1, as suggested by local media including the Greek agency ANA, which cites anonymous sources, that it was the migrants themselves who started various fires during the night. .

It would be an act of rebellion after the discovery of the 35 cases of Covid-19 and the quarantine of the camp, because NGOs and migrants consider that it is impossible to apply barrier measures there, and that the virus would have been there. quickly spread.

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With the fire, "everyone has dispersed and the positive cases have mingled with others now", worries a police source in Lesbos on Wednesday morning. 

What will happen to the refugees present?

For the moment, only a few light injuries' with respiratory problems due to the smoke 'are to be deplored, specify the authorities who, given the scale of the disaster, consider that Lesbos is in a state of emergency. James asserts him that' a crowd of asylum seekers tries to flee, with difficulty, towards the port of Mytilene: "It's almost the whole camp.

People have no place to sleep, so they try to leave the camp because there was a fire.

But the police refused to leave the camp, and suddenly it was really horrible and unfortunate. "But they would have been blocked by the vehicles of the police, according to an AFP photographer. Others took shelter. in the hills surrounding the camp.  

The German Foreign Minister, for his part, on Wednesday called on the countries of the European Union to take care of migrants because of the "humanitarian catastrophe" caused by the fire in the Moria camp.

"We must quickly determine how we can support Greece" and, among this aid, "there is a distribution between EU countries ready to welcome (migrants)", said on Twitter Heiko Maas, whose country ensures the six-monthly presidency of the EU. 

Norway has announced that it will welcome 50 occupants of the camp, "primarily families from Syria".

EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen also said the EU was "ready to help".

"I am deeply saddened by the events in the Moria refugee camp in Greece. I have asked Vice-President (of the Commission) Margaritis Schinas to visit Greece as soon as possible. We stand ready to help, with member states. Our priority is the safety of those who find themselves homeless, "she tweeted.

I am deeply sorrowed by last night's events at the Moria refugees camp in Greece.

My College was informed this morning.

I have asked VP @MargSchinas to travel to Greece asap.

We stand ready to support, with Member States.

Our priority is the safety of those left without shelter.

- Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) September 9, 2020