Fire guts Greece's largest refugee camp and leaves 12,000 people without shelter

Thousands of people have been forced to flee Greece’s largest refugee camp after it was gutted by multiple fires early this morning.

Dramatic images show huge flames destroying much of the site on the island of Lesbos, which was under a coronavirus lockdown, Greek authorities said. 

Despite around 12,500 people living in and around the Moria camp — where additional restrictions were put in place over the past week after a resident tested positive for Covid-19 — there have been no reports of injuries so far. However, thousands are now in need of emergency shelter after running for their lives away from their makeshift homes in the overcrowded site.

Stratos Kytelis, the mayor of the island’s main town, Mylinene, told Skai radio: ‘The fire spread inside and outside of the camp and has destroyed it … There are more than 12,000 migrants being guarded by police on a highway. It is a very difficult situation because some of those who are outside will include people who are positive [for coronavirus].’

A state of emergency is set to be declared on the island, according to government spokesman Stelios Petsas, who branded it ‘a very difficult night.’

The fires also spread to hillside olive groves, with police and fire officials on the island still unsure of the cause of the blazes. 

They did not confirm local reports that the fires had been set deliberately in protest at the lockdown measures but said firefighters had ‘met resistance’ from some camp residents.

Mr Petsas said that arson was being considered as a possible cause of the fire.

Protests also broke out involving migrants, riot police and firefighters.

Health authorities on Tuesday said 35 people had been confirmed infected with the virus so far after a major testing drive was ordered at the site.

Those with confirmed infections were being kept in isolation at a separate site that was not affected by the fire, officials said.

Early on Wednesday, riot police were deployed along the highway that connects the camp to Mytilene, some three miles to the south.

Lesbos was Europe’s busiest crossing point in 2015-16 for illegal migration during a massive westward movement of refugees, many fleeing war in Syria and Iraq and travelling through Turkey.

After that wave of migration, Greece set up camps on Lesbos and four other islands, helped with European Union funding, and more recently also set up a network of camps on the mainland.

Firefighters on Lesbos were also battling two other forest fires on the west of the island.

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