(Lesvos, Greece) – On Monday night, a massive fire made its way through the refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, which is one of the largest camps in the country. Thousands of people fled on foot to avoid the fires, and since then, 4000 people have been evacuated. Half of the camp was destroyed in the fire and the people living in the camp left to seek shelter elsewhere. Nearly 100 unaccompanied children were also transferred to the Pikpa reception site, which was located nearby.
Both police and witnesses say that the fire itself was caused by some of the people who lived there. Earlier in the day, around 2000 camp inhabitants began to protest in order to encourage the Greek government to speed up processing of their asylum applications. During this event, fighting between some of the protestors began to fight amongst themselves. As a result of the fight, witnesses say they began to deliberately set fire to the camp. Arrests have been made in connection with the incident.
In a statement, the United Nations Refugee Agency spokesperson, William Spindler, said, “Over 50 UNHCR Refugee Housing Units, accommodating some 800 people, were completely destroyed.” In response to the fire, the agency has provided housing tents to temporarily replace the damaged housing units.
The camps on Lesvos have a capacity of 3500 people, yet there are around 5300 refugees living on the island. Their frustrations led to the protest that eventually led to the incident. Spindler also said, “Poor living conditions, combined with a prevailing feeling of uncertainty, regularly fuel despair and frustration among asylum-seekers in Greece.”
There are currently around 60,000 refugees living in state run and makeshift camps located throughout Greece. The majority of these refugees are waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. Since the wait time for processing is fairly long, morale in the camps is low.