The U.N. and the mayor of Lesbos on Monday called for the immediate transfer of migrants from an overcrowded Greek refugee camp on the island after a deadly fire sparked riots.
Greek officials on Monday confirmed the death of a woman in Sunday’s blaze at Moria, Europe’s largest migrant camp, which houses around 13,000 people but has facilities for just 3,000.
However, Greek media reported that a burnt blanket possibly containing the charred remains of a baby had been found next to the woman, matching earlier police sources saying a mother and her child had died.
Another 17 injured migrants were transferred to a hospital on the island at Mytilene, the health ministry said Monday.
“Many refugees are so sad, they are stressed, they fear an accident can happen again,” Farid, a young Afghan who did not give his last name, told AFP.
WATCH: At least one person was killed when a fire broke out on Sunday inside a crowded refugee camp on the eastern Greek island of Lesbos close to Turkey, emergency services said. pic.twitter.com/KuVRcX4rys
— NBC News World (@NBCNewsWorld) September 30, 2019
The incident came as the number of migrant arrivals has been steadily climbing in recent months, creating dangerous conditions in the camps of the Greek islands that are in the forefront of the influx.
The U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) on Monday warned the “critical” situation at Moria required “urgent” action.
“We are calling to accelerate the transfers and improve conditions in Moria,” said Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR’s spokesman in Greece.
Lesbos mayor Stratos Kytelis also urged the “immediate decongestion of our islands.”
E.U. Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is set to visit Greece and Turkey this week with the foreign ministers of Germany and France to discuss the explosive situation in the camps on the Greek islands.
“The increased arrivals in Greece over the past weeks have put an immense strain on an already flawed system and are creating unsustainable conditions as we have already had the opportunity to point out in the past,” European Commission spokesman Mina Andreeva said Monday, describing the Moria fire as a “truly tragic event.”
‘Can Happen Anytime’
Moria camp has become like a small town, with U.N. refugee agency tents for around 8,000 people sprawling into the olive fields of nearby Moria village. Others are housed in containers.
A plane helped extinguish the fire, which reportedly started in a mobile vendor’s stall. But police later fired tear gas to control an angry crowd who accused authorities of taking too long to respond to the incident.
Calm had returned to the camp by Monday but the U.N. and residents said there was still a strong police presence.
Regional governor Kostas Moutzouris warned that “such a tragedy can happen anytime” at the cramped camp.
Greece hosts some 70,000 mostly Syrian refugees and migrants who have fled their countries since 2015, crossing over from neighboring Turkey.
But the number of arrivals has been rising again recently, with some 10,000 people landing on Lesbos in the past three months, according to the Greek government.
“We’re in a different context compared to 2015… But this is by far the worst period we’ve been experiencing since the EU-Turkey deal was struck,” the Deputy Minister of Citizen Protection Lefteris Economou told reporters on Monday.
VIDEO: Drone footage of a life jacket graveyard on the Greek island of Lesbos shows the scale of Europe’s migrant crisis, which started in 2015. Read about a recent surge of migrants heading to Lesbos: https://t.co/gg798sppNE pic.twitter.com/BcyJnAWhLx
— AP Europe (@AP_Europe) September 26, 2019
Around 250 migrants at Moria were scheduled to be brought to the Greek mainland on Monday.
“We are trying to gradually transfer the migrants to empty the Moria camp,” Economou said.
Some 2,510 migrants have been transferred from the Greek islands to the mainland between September 2 and 15, U.N. figures show.
The Greek government said Sunday it planned to discuss a new asylum draft law to deal with the fresh migrant crisis.
The government has called on regional governors on mainland Greece to expand existing camps or to revive some closed ones to relieve pressure on the overcrowded islands.
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