- The fires that razed Greece’s Moria refugee camp, leaving up to 12,000 homeless, began after a single ATM was blocked in a Covid quarantine measure.
- The whole field depended on the banking machine for money. Food, soap, and baby supplies became scarce.
- Young people lit small fires in protest, but they lost control.
- Sources on site told Insider how the entire camp was incinerated within hours.
- Visit the Business Insider home page for more stories.
Just after 10pm on the night of Tuesday, September 8, a demonstration in Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos took a turn for the worse when a handful of small fires lit by frustrated protesters quickly spread into the tightly packed facility. crowded, swallowing it completely.
The next morning, when the flames were extinguished, most of the camp was destroyed. Nearly 1
It started with the removal of access to an ATM on which the whole field depended on money.
Covid arrives, cutting off access to the bank machine
Further fires occurred Wednesday night throughout the rest of the site. Greek officials hurried later that day to arrange refugee accommodation. Meanwhile, fights and protests erupted as refugees asked to be moved from Lesbos and frustrated residents tried to prevent new homes from being built.
The refugees did not intend to burn the camp they lived in, said Mohammed Akbar, a 42-year-old Afghan father of three who spoke to Insider via WhatsApp.
But then the coronavirus came, bringing a quarantine with it. The camp’s enforced isolation cut its residents from the one ATM that served them all, the only banking facility they had.
Moria was designed in 2015 to briefly hold 3,000 people as waves of refugees fled wars in Syria and northern Iraq. But “briefly” it became permanent and up to Wednesday 12,000 lived there. The pre-migration population of Lesbos was only 86,000.
Long hours in line for money
Akbar described a scene in which the already overcrowded camp went hell after 35 residents tested positive for COVID, resulting in a total shutdown of facilities. For many, the “structures” are simply curtains and plastic sheets.
Restrictions were placed on who could stand in line for hours to receive a family’s food rations, and this has pushed the camp’s already precarious food situation further into chaos. The restrictions included closing the ATM. Even when the machine was running, long lines formed in front of it, as these photos from May show:
—Mortaza (@MortazaBehboudi) May 14, 2020
The bank machine was the only way Moria residents could withdraw or receive money, as the camp is within walking distance of the nearest town. So simple tasks – like getting food, soap or diapers – suddenly became very difficult and the camp became dependent on a faulty official distribution system, sources told Insider.
People began to panic because they couldn’t get the money to buy the things they needed.
“The ATM was closed, so there was no money to buy food, no shops open,” Akbar said. “And sometimes the meals they give you didn’t come. Families were hungry and the children needed milk,” she said.
The protests, which became common when thousands of people were stranded in the island camp for years, were intended to pressure the authorities to reopen the bank, facilitate food distribution and move some families off the island to reduce overcrowding. .
The fires begin
Some young people have started lighting small fires of protest.
“The fire came from the young boys not from the adults, some of them have no parents or families to control them, they were causing problems with the police,” Akbar said, in a story confirmed by multiple other witnesses.
Moria is located among olive trees on a windswept hill, and the wind quickly carried the flames to areas filled with plastic tents. It has spread to propane gas cylinders used by most households to cook meals.
Greek officials have promised to deport the people who lit the fires and claim they have opened an investigation.
On Wednesday, officials began planning the transfer of hundreds of unaccompanied minors to facilities on the mainland. So far they have refused to leave the island to most of the homeless refugees.
‘They want us to leave the island and we want to leave the island’
In the rush home, more than 10,000 people were suddenly homeless – in many cases sleeping in fields and by roadsides – Greece announced that a new facility would be built and that refugees would be housed on ferries and naval ships sent. on site.
Island residents have been complaining about the facility for months. They were told it was going to be temporary more than five years ago. This week they engaged in a series of blockades and clashes with the riot police sent from Athens to prevent any further “temporary” solution.
“They want us to leave the island and we want to leave the island,” Akbar said.
To make a donation to a relief fund for migrants in Greece, go to the Doctors Without Borders website.