‘It’s unbearable’: Lesbos refugees sleep on streets after devastating fire
Plumes of smoke rise above the ashes and twisted metal. In many parts this is all that remains of Europe’s largest refugee camp.
Just a few days ago, the Moria camp in Lesbos was home to thousands of children and their families. Now all that is left are the smoldering ruins and jagged outlines of scorched tents.
Helicopters and small planes buzz over the devastation, trying to tackle the remaining blazes. The camp is still a tinderbox of dry wood, tents and living containers. A young man asks police if he can access a part of the camp to get his things but a small fire has just started and is growing. The police shake their heads and tell him to come back tomorrow to check if anything still remains.
In other parts of the camp, young men emerge through the smoke, dragging what belongings they can salvage.
Somaya, 27, a graduate in political science from Afghanistan, sits quietly holding a bundle of her remaining possessions. Until Tuesday, she was living in a part of the camp assigned to single women. “Everything happened very quickly,” she said. “Police helped us to leave and a few minutes [later] all of our section burned in the fire.”
Since Tuesday evening, she has been sleeping on the street along with thousands of other people. “We have had a very bad night last night,” she said, “we haven’t anything.”
Ali, who is aged 19 and lived alone in Moria, says that people are struggling to cope. On Wednesday night, people huddled in the doorways of supermarkets and outside the police station as the cold set in. “We don’t have any other place to go,” he says.
Although food has been delivered to some of those who fled the camp, Ali hasn’t eaten for nearly two days. “Everything is very bad and [getting] worse,” he says. “We don’t know what will happen to us.”
Faris Al-Jawad of aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières said that their teams had been treating babies with smoke inhalation as well as children who had been on the streets for over two days. The response from the authorities, was “lacklustre”, he said. People needed to be immediately evacuated to the mainland and other European countries, he added.
Across the island the fire has caused anger, indignation and despair, and divided the community on what should come next. Some local people express solidarity with the refugees but many hope that the camp will not be rebuilt. On Thursday, two trucks blocked the road to stop construction vehicles reaching the burnt-out ruins of the camp.
The mayor of Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos, Stratis Kytelis, is among those opposing a new camp and told local media that he will not accept any reopening of the Moria facility.
Three miles down the road, other refugees at the smaller Kara Tepe camp have been sharing their food and consoling those who fled the flames at Moria, yet can do little to provide shelter. There appear to be no official plans to help relocate those who have lost their homes and shelters, and no sign of the ferries reportedly on their way to provide somewhere for people to sleep.
For now, the thousands who fled Moria have nowhere to go. The family of Mohammed, 35, who worked as a government employee in Afghanistan, are some of those facing another night on the street. “Please,” he says simply, “this situation is unbearable.”