Fires amid COVID-19 crisis rattle refugees in Aegean camps of Greece

Incidents of fire outbreaks were reported from refugee camps on Samos and Chios islands in Greece this month. Refugees also protested in Lesvos, demanding safety and evacuation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

April 28, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Fire at refugee camp Greece
The transfer of refugees from overcrowded camps on the Greek islands to the mainland and other European countries has been halted. (Photo: Mission Lifeline)

A fire at the Vathy refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos destroyed several living spaces and tents in the facility, leaving around 100 people without shelter. The incident reportedly took place in the afternoon of April 26, Sunday. The facility at Vathy is severely overcrowded, housing around 6,869 refugees whereas it has a capacity of only 648 people. Fires have broken out in different camps on the Aegean islands in Greece, putting at risk the lives of tens of thousands of refugees. 

Another fire broke out at the Vial camp of Chios on April 18.

Meanwhile, the rising number of COVID-19 cases on the Greek mainland along with reports of positive cases from the islands have put inmates of overcrowded refugee camps in a vulnerable situation. Though no cases have been confirmed among the refugees, 11 positive cases have been reported in the local population on the islands as of April 20. On the mainland, quarantine has bee imposed in three refugee shelters, at Kranidi, Ritsona, and Malakaasa, due to the outbreak of the disease. 

According to a Human Rights Watch report, “As of April 20, 34,875 migrants and asylum seekers reside in the Greek Aegean islands of Aegean islands of Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos, and Samos – over 6 times their capacity.”

The transfer of the refugees from overcrowded camps on the islands to the Greek mainland and other European countries has been halted by authorities citing the rise of COVID-19 cases on the mainland and lack of preparedness to accommodate them amid the raging pandemic. The death of an inmate at a camp in Chios last week had triggered protests over fears of him dying of the infection. Such anxiety on COVID-19 has spread across the camps in the country. 

Inmates of the overcrowded Moria camp held a peaceful protest on April 22 to denounce their ongoing suffering and demand security and evacuation. The proposed COVID-19 medical center on the camp has not been operationalized yet. Meanwhile, the hostility among the islanders towards the refugees is also on the rise in Lesvos and other islands.

Volunteer group PIKPA said, “We have reached the breaking point a long time ago. EU decisions and policies have pushed people in Moria camp into despair, they are in a daily survival mode. At this point, the European Union (EU) and national politicians are not only responsible for the hell of Moria camp for more than 20,000 people, but also for creating a society that tolerates and supports violence and retaliation against refugees.”

As of April 28, around 2,534 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Greece and 136 people have died as a result.

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