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Four Afghans on Trial for Burning Down Migrant Camp at Greece’s Lesvos

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The devastating fire at Moria camp in Lesvos. Credit: Twitter/Thanasis Voulgarakis @th.v

Four young Afghan migrants went on trial in Greece on Friday accused of starting the devastating fires that burnt down Lesvos, Moria, Europe’s largest migrant camp last year.

The Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesvos was home to more than 10,000 people before it was destroyed by two fires in September 2020.

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The four Afghans, who are on trial on the neighboring island of Chios, are charged with intentional arson leading to a risk to human life and membership of a criminal group.

Two other Afghan youths were jailed for five years over the same case in March.

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The aftermath of the fire. Credit: Twitter/Thanasis Voulgarakis @th.v

Multiple fires at the Lesvos migrant camp

Thousands of migrants fled the overcrowded camp at Moria in September 2020, after multiple fires gutted much of the site.

The severely-overcrowded camp, home to more than 12,000 migrants and refugees, was under COVID-19 lockdown at the time after a cluster of cases were detected there.

“The fire spread inside and outside of the camp and has destroyed it … There are more than 12,000 migrants being guarded by police on a highway,” Stratos Kytelis, mayor of the island’s main town, Mytlinene, told Skai Radio.

“It is a very difficult situation because some of those who are outside will include people who are positive (for the coronavirus).”

Thousands of asylum seekers, among them families with children, pregnant women and people with disabilities, had to sleep in the open for a week after the camp was destroyed.

Authorities have since built a temporary camp on Lesvos that is hosting some 6,000 people.

“The worst refugee camp on earth”

Built in 2013 to house a maximum of 3,000 people, the Moria migrant camp became badly overcrowded in 2015 as a huge wave of people began arriving on the Greek islands on small boats from nearby Turkey.

Home to asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia seeking a better life in the European Union it quickly became a byword for squalor and violence. It was described by Human Rights Watch as an open air prison.

In August 2018, it was dubbed by the field coordinator of Doctors Without Borders as “the worst refugee camp on earth”.

Because of overcrowding, the camp expanded into a nearby olive grove, known as “Moria jungle”, where the living quarters were makeshift, typically made out of pallets and tarps.

The migrants cut down an estimated 5,000 olive trees, some of them centuries old, to use as firewood. The residents of the nearby village of Moria have complained of increased criminality, including break-ins, vandalism, and looting of houses.

Clashes between asylum seekers and the Greek police were frequent. International humanitarian organizations were calling for Greece and the EU to improve the conditions in the camp.

Some 10,000 asylum seekers are currently living across Greece’s Aegean islands, the vast majority of them hoping to settle elsewhere in the EU.

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