Death sparks unrest at major migrant camp in Greece

Athens (AFP) –


A fire ripped through one of Greece's largest migrant camps leaving widespread damage and many people homeless after the death of an Iraqi woman sparked unrest, officials said Sunday.

The blaze late Saturday at Vial camp on Chios island destroyed the facilities of the European asylum service, a camp canteen, warehouse tents and many housing containers, Migration Ministry Secretary Manos Logothetis told AFP.

"A large part of the camp's administrative services was destroyed," said Logothetis, adding that no injuries were reported.

The UN refugee agency's spokesman in Athens, Boris Cheshirkov, said the damage is still being evaluated but that many camp residents have likely been left homeless.

"Authorities are still assessing the damages but a few hundred people are likely affected because their shelters have burned down. We have donated tents to the authorities which can quickly be put into use and we will assist in replacing the warehouse tents," he told AFP.

Anissa, a 22-year-old asylum-seeker from Somalia who declined to give her last name out of concern for her safety, said the fire "burned two big tents and each tent has more than 20 homes" inside.

Aziza Husseini, a 30-year-old mother of two from Afghanistan, said a group of camp residents "attacked the food warehouses, set fire to the info point, took the food refrigerators into the camp and set them on fire."

"We are not safe at all, we are very scared... We can't sleep at night," she said.

Both women said police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.

- Migrant camps under quarantine -

At least three vehicles outside the camp were also gutted.

A police source in Athens said two Afghans and an Iraqi had been arrested in relation to the unrest, which erupted after a 47-year-old asylum seeker from Iraq died in the camp on Saturday.

"We managed to restore order at around 1 am... There were many people who took part in the incidents," another police source on Chios said.

The Iraqi woman who died had been taken with a fever to a hospital earlier this week. At the time, a test for coronavirus had returned negative, state news agency ANA reported Saturday.

Migrant camps in Greece have been under quarantine in recent weeks, with authorities trying to keep residents apart from locals.

The virus has so far killed 110 people in Greece. Another 67 are in intensive care.

No coronavirus cases have been reported in island camps so far, but two camps on the mainland have registered cases.

As with all of Greece's island camps, Vial is massively overcrowded with more than 5,000 people living in space intended for around 1,000.

Some 100,000 asylum seekers are currently stranded in Greece after other European states closed their borders in 2016.

Overall, more than 36,000 people are sheltering in the camps on islands near Turkey that were originally built for 6,100.

The migration ministry has said it will begin moving hundreds of elderly and ailing asylum seekers out of the island camps to protect them from the coronavirus.

A scheme to gradually relocate 1,600 unaccompanied minors from war-torn countries to other European nations also began this week.