Thousands of migrants were left without shelter on Wednesday after overnight fires gutted their overcrowded camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, and authorities warned that some asylum seekers who tested positive for Covid-19 could spread the virus.
The Moria camp, which hosts more than 12,000 people, was “probably totally destroyed”, a Greek migration official said.
Authorities said they were investigating arson at the sprawling camp. Early Wednesday evening, a new fire broke out, sending those who remained on site fleeing.
A Reuters witness reported seeing a “huge” column of black smoke emerging from the camp. Live images showed people running down a road carrying children and infants, many using prams to transport possessions crammed into bin bags as a fire raged in a gully.
Before the fire, Moria was notorious for its poor living conditions. Pope Francis visited the facility in 2016, in an attempt to highlight conditions and show solidarity with refugees.
Athens declared a state of emergency on Lesbos and sent police reinforcements to the island to help keep order. Many were obstructed from reaching the island’s main town, Mytilene.
"The situation in Moria cannot go on (as it is) because it is simultaneously a public health and national security issue,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address, adding that managing migrant flows was a “European problem”.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said the European Union had agreed to fund the immediate transfer of 400 unaccompanied children and teenagers to the Greek mainland.