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NGOs in Lesbos have warned that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding on the roads around the still burning Moria camp, where thousands of migrants are allegedly being held by police without shelter or adequate medical help.
Annie Petros, head coordinator of of the charity Becky’s Bathhouse, said she was blocked by police from taking injured people to hospital as she drove them away from the fire.
“When we saw there was a fire we drove as fast as we could with water to the camp, intending to take sick people to hospital. I can’t describe properly the scene we saw. There were streams of people, thousands of them, walking away from the camp. They were totally silent, terrified and traumatised, walking through thick smoke and the awful smell of burning plastic,” she said.
“We picked up some pregnant women who needed urgent help and a teenage boy with a broken leg. When we neared the town of Mytilene there were riot police blocking the way to stop anyone reaching the town. I begged the police but their commander wouldn’t let us through. We called an ambulance and it refused to come to the roadblock.”
Petros said she was sent along back roads, that brought them into contact with a group of anti-migrant protesters.
She learned later that some people were attacked.
She said the people she took to the hospital were the only ones who managed to make it through. “There are many people who need help with burns, with smoke inhalation.”
Other aid organisations in the area said urgent work was needed to get people shelter before night fell.
Omar Alshakal, a former refugee and founder of Refugees4Refugees, said: “The situation is out of control. We were looking after minors here and the safe place for them was lost in the fire. We lost 30 children. We are looking for them now.”
Alshakal said the Greek government was making some effort, but the situation was severe. “We now have 12,000 people with no shelter, homeless on the main road. I have been called just now by the army, they want to get food to people and masks, sanitisation.”
He said he was concerned that the isolation unit for Covid-19 patients was now abandoned. “We had 19 positive cases all in isolation, now they have left the camp. We have the fear they will spread the virus further.”
The cause of the fire is unclear. Alshakal believes it was started by refugees in protest at conditions.
The overcrowded camp is known to be a dangerous space, with small fires being lit to cook and no safe distancing between ramshackle tarpaulins used as tents.
Moira was opened at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015. It was originally intended to hold 3,000 people. The charity MSF has been pushing the Greek authorities to improve conditions at the camp for years.
Amir, a 19-year-old migrant from Afghanistan who teaches English in the School of Peace in the camp, said: “At about 11 last night I saw people starting fires deliberately. It was refugees who were very, very angry about the situation in this camp. We have been a long time in quarantine, you know we are under a lockdown while there are no such rules or laws for Greek people. It is racist, they are treating people like we are animals. We have needs, but we can’t leave this camp to get medicine or food.”
He added: “The situation will now be worse for refugees. Our school is completely burned down. We had started to have hope that we could continue our learning but all that is gone now.”
Aid groups are meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss an urgent response. They want people moved from the roadside immediately.
Philippa Kempson of the Hope Project, said a government-ordered 3.5-mile (6km) cordon around the camp meant she couldn’t get to her supplies.
“We have a building full of aid, nappies, water, very near Moria,” she said. “People can’t reach the city, they are out on an exposed road in 32C with children and babies. These people left the camp with what they had. We are 10km away and I had an asthma attack this morning due to the toxic smoke. Everything in there is plastic: the tents, the temporary housing blocks. And fires are still breaking out, the fire helicopter is still overhead.”
She said the only light in the dark situation was that in two months the camp was due to be completely locked down. “Can you imagine if the fire had started in a couple of months when they had fenced it in with razor wire as they were planning to do? You would have had 12,000 people trapped in an inferno.”
The UNHCR is working with the authorities to move people to safety. The agency said the authorities have blocked the road to stop uncontrolled movement but that vulnerable groups were being prioritised for shelter across the island and in accommodation in Mytilene, the island’s capital.
Ylva Johansson, EU commissioner for home affairs, tweeted she had “agreed to finance the immediate transfer and accommodation on the mainland of the remaining 400 unaccompanied children and teenagers. The safety and shelter of all people in Moria is the priority.”
The police have been approached for comment.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Catastrophe’ warning as thousands left homeless by Lesbos refugee camp fire | Global development