Publish: 09 Sep 2020, 02:41 pm
Greece's largest migrant camp on the island of Lesbos was destroyed by a massive fire early on Wednesday, leaving more than 12,000 refugees homeless, with reports that migrants were starting to rise up against coronavirus isolation rules.
Firemen said the notorious Mori Camp had mostly been destroyed, but so far there have been no known casualties, although a number of people have had minor respiratory problems due to exposure to smoke.
Government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said an emergency would be declared throughout the island, and reports of arson were under investigation.
He warned that the authorities were faced with a "titanic" effort to shelter asylum seekers made homeless by fire, as well as to track down and isolate dozens of confirmed coronavirus infections.
"There are 35 positive cases and they need to be isolated... to prevent an outbreak among the local population," Petsas told state TV ERT.
Hundreds of asylum seekers have tried to flee to the port town of Mytilene on foot, but have been blocked by police vehicles, while others have taken refuge in the hills surrounding the camps.
Refugee Support Group Stand by Me Lesvos reported on Twitter that Greek residents on the island had blocked asylum seekers fleeing to a nearby village.
"The whole camp is on fire. Everything is burning. People are escaping. Their homes in Moria are gone," the organization said.
Administration offices, a clinic inside the camp and thousands of tents were damaged by fire, according to local news site Lesvospost.
The Greek news agency ANA said the fires had started after an asylum seeker 's rebellion, who had to be placed in isolation after a positive coronavirus test or in close contact with an infected patient.
Firefighters also said they had been blocked from entering the camp to battle the blaze by a group of refugees and had asked for police assistance.
- Virus outbreak -
Since its first case was reported last Wednesday, the camp has seen a spike in coronavirus patients with 35 confirmed infections so far.
Migrants' camps on the islands have endured months of locks due to the coronavirus pandemic, with access severely restricted.
But at Moria, the restrictions have been harder to enforce because of the large number of asylum seekers sleeping outside the camp's walls.
Rights groups, including the United Nations Refugee Agency, have urged Greece to reduce congestion in its migrant camps.
The Mori camp, which was built to hold fewer than 2,800 people, was routinely criticized for its lack of hygiene and overcrowding.
Many refugees have been unable to find lodgings and jobs after leaving the camps, with housing and cash benefits recently scaled back by the government.