Thousands of refugees homeless after fire destroys Moria camp

Thousands of refugees homeless after fire destroys Moria camp

Athens, Greece – Thousands of refugees have been made homeless after a fire engulfed Moria, a notoriously overcrowded refugee camp on Greece’s Lesbos island, where about 13,000 people had been living in a space designed for just under 3,000.

The origin of the fire, which started inside the camp late on Tuesday night and began to spread quickly through the densely packed hillside, remains unclear.

Considerable areas of the sprawling site were burned to cinders, with reports from officials that about 70 percent of containers and tents had been destroyed.

“The situation is unbearable and difficult for us, at the moment we are currently homeless on the roads,” Mohammad Hanif Joya, a 35-year-old Afghan, told Al Jazeera by phone as he sat on a road with his family, including four children.

“We saved only the children and ourselves,” he said. “All our clothes and belongings were burned in the fire.”

Joya said they had no food and water.

“Moria is all burned,” he said. “Everyone is on the road under the scorching sun.”

He added that a peaceful demonstration was planned for this afternoon.

Refugees sit inside the burnt Moria Camp on the Greek island of Lesbos [Anthi Pazianou/AFP]

Camp residents fled after the fire broke out, grabbing any belongings they could.

Many, like Afghan Omid Alizada, left with nothing.

Sitting on the side of a road between Moria and the main town of Mytilene with thousands of others from the camp, he said: “We left with nothing, only the clothes on our body. Thousands of people rescued their lives from this huge fire, they are wandering in the streets and left the camp to go to Mytilene.”

There were unconfirmed reports that there were police-initiated blockades along the road between Moria and Mytilene, preventing people from reaching the main town.

The fire brought fresh tragedy to the residents of the infamous refugee camp, which was under quarantine restrictions due to an outbreak of COVID-19 last week; cases have since been steadily rising.

As of Tuesday, there had been at least 35 confirmed cases in the camp.

In response to the fire, Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs tweeted that she had agreed to finance the immediate transfer to the mainland of the remaining 400 unaccompanied children and teenagers, a sum which would include accommodation.

“The safety and shelter of all people in Moria is the priority,” she said.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called ministers to an emergency meeting.

Faris al-Jawad from Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, told Al Jazeera that his group still did not have clarity on whether there were injuries or deaths.

An aerial view of destroyed shelters following the fire at the Moria camp, in a picture taken with a drone [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Most Moria residents were on the road between Moria and the main town of Mytilene, he said, with some people now returning to the site to collect any belongings they could salvage.

“It’s fair to say that after five years of trapping people in barbaric and inhumane conditions, at some point something like this was inevitable,” he said. “It seems impossible for everyone to go back to Moria tomorrow, everyone needs to be evacuated to a safe place on the mainland or to other EU countries.”

“Ali Mustafa, a 19-year-old Moria resident, said that he had not slept at all.

“I saw bad things with my eyes,” he said. “Nothing is left and most of the people are sleeping in the streets, they don’t have money to buy anything, they lost everything last night.”

Migrants sleep on the ground outside Moria [Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP]