Fatal fire at packed refugee camp sparks riots among residents

At least one person died in a fire that broke out at the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Sunday, leading to rioting among its inhabitants and clashes with police.

Greek police spokesperson Lieutenant Theodoros Chronopolos confirmed the death of a woman, adding that “violence towards police erupted” after those living in the camp learned the news.

There has been some discrepancy in the reported death toll. The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that a woman and child were killed in the blaze.

The skirmishes with authorities that followed injured four police officers and a firefighter, police said, while the Greek Ministry of Health said that 17 people were hospitalized with minor injuries and breathing problems.

Anger is rising at Moria as agencies continue to warn of a deteriorating situation at the camp, which is now home to around 12,000 people — four times its official capacity — according to UNHCR.

As of Monday, authorities moved 250 people to the mainland in a bid to “ease conditions at the Moria camp,” police said.

“We have learned with deep sadness that the lives of a woman and a child were lost in a fire on #Lesvos today. We are ready to support those affected and authorities by all means possible,” UNHCR Greece wrote on Twitter.

Angry camp residents told an Agence-France Presse correspondent they were rioting over the long time it took the fire brigade to arrive and extinguish the blaze.

The Greek fire services have yet to give an official reason behind the fire.

“An investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of the fire,” its spokesperson told CNN, adding that one of their vehicles was damaged as it tried “to operate in the camp.”

Greece is hosting more than 80,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have made the sea crossing from Turkey since 2015.

An increase in sea arrivals in recent months has increased the burden on island camps, which the UN warned in August as being far above their estimated capacities.

Elinda Labropoulou reported from Athens. Tara John wrote from London.