Greek Island of Lesvos in State of Emergency after Catastrophic Fire



By early morning, Moria was a smoldering mass of burned containers and tents. Credit: @th_voulgarakis/Twitter

The entire Greek island of Lesvos was put under a state of emergency for four days starting from today, Wednesday. This declaration was enacted to address the emergent nature of public health and security on the island as the small island reels from a fire that gutted the migrant center of Moria.

An outbreak of the coronavirus was detected at the several overcrowded camp earlier this week and a strict lockdown had been put in place to help slow the spread of the infection.

Greek fire officials stated earlier on Wednesday that they believe the fire was set by migrants who were unhappy with the lockdown.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired an extraordinary inter-ministerial meeting at the Maximos Mansion today to address this serious situation on Lesvos.

The participants discussed the situation at the Moria camp, which houses thousands more migrants and refugees than it was designed for and whose inhabitants lived in canvas tents.

“I express my sorrow over Tuesday’s incidents in Moria,” the Prime Minister stated in an announcement after the meeting. “I recognize the difficult conditions; however nothing can become an alibi for violent reactions during health checks.

“The condition in Moria can’t continue because it is an issue of public health, humanism and national safety.”

PM Mitsotakis went on to say that the island of Lesvos has declared a state of emergency, which means that all possible national funding and forces will contribute to support the island.

“The unaccompanied children are leaving already from Moria” PM Mitsotakis noted, adding that he has briefed the European authorities. He stated that the “migration management problem is first of all a European problem”.

The Greek leader said that European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas will visit Lesvos on Thursday and he will have a meeting with him on Friday. “Our priority is the health and the safety of all, migrants and residents” Mitsotakis stated.

A fire broke out at Moria at 2 AM this morning after clashes began when some of the 35 refugees who had tested positive for Covid-19 refused to enter into isolation with their families.

Greece’s Interior Minister, Migration and Asylum Minister, and the president of the National Organisation for Public Health will depart for Lesvos on Wednesday to be briefed on the condition in Moria, a government spokesperson announced after the conclusion of the extraordinary government meeting held earlier at Maximos Mansion.

The three officials will give a press conference on the situation at the camp at 6 PM on Wednesday.

At 1 PM, Greece’s alternate Migration and Asylum Minister will brief the press.

“The disaster at Moria is total,” Manos Logothetis, the Secretary General of the Reception of Asylum Seekers of the Migration Policy Ministry, stated to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, adding: “I am going to the island to assess the situation. We must see in cooperation with all institutions what solutions we can provide for the temporary and long-term hospitality of the residents there. It is a first priority for everyone.”

Meanwhile, Greek police authorities have sent reinforcements to the island to deal with the situation. The area outside the reception and identification center has been totally destroyed while a large part of the area inside the center has suffered serious damage.

The asylum center and its equipment have reportedly been burned while the Intensive Care Unit has also been damaged.

A large segment of the population of Moria has fled to the surrounding areas, including the nearby hills, while another others have moved to the city of Mytilene. A strong police force has been lined up close to the PPC facilities and migrants are not being allowed to enter the city.

The protection of the vulnerable groups that were hosted in Moria is a top priority, Alternate Migration and Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said at a briefing to the press on Wednesday. He also said that the 408 unaccompanied children once housed at Moria are safe in hotels and other establishments.

President of the European Council Charles Michel stated today that the European Union is ready to provide support after the fire at Moria.

“My thoughts go out to all who have been put in danger at the Moria migrant camp. Full solidarity with the people of Lesvos providing shelter, the migrants and staff. We are in touch with the Greek authorities and are ready to mobilize support,” Michel posted on Twitter.