After the Fire

Mória Refugee Camp, Greece

After the Fire

Having survived the Aegean Sea and arson, Moria residents face an uncertain future

On Sept. 8, 2020, fires burned down the Mória Refugee Camp in Lesbos, the biggest refugee camp in Europe which until then was home to almost 13,000 asylum-seekers. Built initially for less than 3,000 people, the camp’s population grew over the past few years. Thousands were living there in cramped and inhumane conditions.

It’s still unclear how the fire started, but Greek police have arrested six Afghan asylum-seekers on the suspicion of arson. They claim the fire was started by them in protest against the poor living conditions. Refugees, however, dispute this. They claim that while a small fire was lit at a protest, the fire that burned down the camp was started by a small group of angry locals and far right activists in a completely different part of the camp.

Moria now belongs to the past but tension persist.

After days of sleeping rough without food or water and constantly harassed by riot police, groups of asylum seekers, including children, started organizing peaceful protests. The police responded with teargas.

Most of the asylum seekers have since been moved to a temporary camp in Kara Tepe, a few kilometers from Moria. Conditions there are even worse. With the winter approaching, families will have to live in flimsy tents with no running water and limited toilet facilities.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis conferred with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission Von der Leyen to create a new permanent camp on the island. Meanwhile, the situation remains tense with locals showing dissatisfaction with government plans and asylum seekers trying to survive in flooded tents after the first autumn rains hit the island.

Marjan, 27, who came to Lesbos pregnant from Afghanistan holds her now 3 month-old child. After the fire on Sept. 8 they lost all their belongings and are left homeless. “Nobody cares about the situation we are in. Everyone is closing their eyes until someone sets themselves on fire, until someone kills themselves. The Greek government keeps us here because they financially benefited from us.” She says.

Afghan children hold a protest in Kara Tepe.

Asylum seekers left without food and water for five days after the burning of the Moria Refugee Camp. The camp was the only place for them to access a water source in Kara Tepe.

Asylum seekers in an improvised shelter in front of a supermarket in Kara Tepe.

Sedra, 2, sleeps in the parking lot of a Lidl supermarket in Kara Tepe, Lesbos after Moria camp was burned down.

Latifa (middle), 32, had been living in Moria camp for 11 months. She was sleeping with her extended family in the Lidle parking lot in Kara Tepe. Police in Kara Tepe prevent people from accessing the city center. Earlier they clashed with asylum seekers. “The police have no sense of humanity,” Latifa said. “They just started firing tear gas at our children.”

A young Afghan mother holds her baby who has had fever for three days. “My baby is going to die. We have no doctors here. I want the government to deport us back to Afghanistan. I don’t want to stay here anymore.” It was the family’s 5th day sleeping in a parking lot after their accommodation in Moria camp was burned down.

A girl previously living in Moria camp sleeps rough in the parking lot of a supermarket in Kara Tepe.

A woman cries while praying during a Sept. 13 demonstration in Kara Tepe. People were demanding permission to leave Lesbos after their shelter in the infamous Moria was burned down. “You should pray to God, only him can save us. Our demonstrations have failed. Now we only have God” was heard on a loudspeaker.

A child cries while praying during a Sept. 13 demonstration in Kara Tepe.

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