In the early hours of September 9, the infamous Moria camp for asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos burst into flames. The motives and the exact conditions behind the incident are currently being investigated, but the fire raises some serious concerns for the migrants and asylum seekers now without a home as well as the local administration and the Greek government.
The Latest Moria Fire
The first points of fire across the camp were spotted on September 8 at approximately 2300 local time following tensions between groups of immigrants in the camp. Shortly after midnight the fire started spreading across the site and by early morning everything was utterly destroyed.
Thousands of residents of the camp swiftly fled the scene. No casualties have been reported for now, however there is no conclusive picture so far and there are serious concerns that there could have been grave injuries or deaths following the fire.
Firefighters Response and Aftermath
Dozens of firefighters and fire brigade vehicles have also promptly reached the camp and managed to get the fire under control before it could expand to other areas of the island. It should be noted here that several groups of migrants tried to block the firefighters from approaching the scene in an act of protest for the allegedly low living standards in Moria.
In the aftermath of the fire, German Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas characterized the incident as a humanitarian disaster and highlighted the full support of the European Commission towards Greece in terms of financial and humanitarian assistance. Maas also emphasized that the EU members should work together in good faith and quickly express their intention to receive migrants from the overcrowded Greek camps.
Local Grievances and an Unsurprising Disaster
This is not the first time that the camp in Moria has made the headlines. The camp has been probably the most serious trouble spot for the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum in the whole country. Since its very establishment several years ago as a Reception and Identification Center (RIC) the camp has always been overcrowded.
With an official capacity of approximately 3,000 people, the camp has reportedly reached a population of about 20,000 migrants and asylum seekers in several instances in the past. After constant efforts, this number has fallen to roughly 13,000 people, still significantly outnumbering the actual capacity.
Further to the high numbers of people based in the camp and the poor living standards, there has been another point of friction causing complaints and disappointment lately. Due to the renewed COVID-19 outbreak in Greece, and the numerous cases in the Moria camp, asylum seekers based in the facility have been quarantined since early September, as per the guidance from the Hellenic Ministry of Health.
A random check in Moria earlier this week, identified 35 new Covid cases out of 2,000 samples in the camp, confirming that approximately the 1.75% of the people in the camp could be potentially carrying the virus. Considering the weak hygiene infrastructure at the camp and the high risk of further contamination, those 35 individuals were instructed to self-isolate for the necessary time-frame.
This development was reportedly been the spark leading to the massive reaction of disobedience that eventually appears to have led to the fire. On the one hand several people complained about the self-isolation instruction that would temporarily keep some family members apart, while other aggressively responded to these complaints, which could put in danger the total population of the facility.
During and after the fire all the 13,000 asylum seekers proceeded to a massive uncontrolled exodus from the camp, moving to unknown locations, ranging from nearby mountainous areas to the capital town of Lesbos, Mytilene.
A Dual Threat and Severe Concerns of Greek Officials
Following the Moria fire Greek authorities from the local to the most senior level are on high alert. Shortly after the incident Greek Deputy Minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management Nicholas G. Hardalias announced that the island of Lesbos is entering a state of emergency for at least four months due to public health reasons.
Indeed, the totally unrestrained and un-monitored movement of an unknown number of COVID-19 carriers could be an infectious time bomb for the entire island of Lesbos. This potential medical disaster has alarmed the local authorities and medical officials, who are now running in a race against time to prevent a catastrophe.
But at the same time, there is another quite concerning geopolitical aspect of this fire for the Greek government. This incident comes at a moment where Greek-Turkish tensions are reaching new levels, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Possibility of a Fifth Column Inside Greece
Lesbos is an island in the northern Aegean Sea, critically located in the proximity of the Turkish mainland and a possible theater of operations in a potential armed confrontation between the two countries. The asylum seekers in the island made it to Greece through Turkey and have been based at the Moria camp until the fire in order to be identified and then have their asylum applications assessed.
This means that there is no efficient data for an unknown number of these people, and some of these individuals could be acting on behalf of Turkey.
The Greek government should always keep in mind that even a handful of well-trained operatives could easily manipulate a massive crowd of disappointed and angry people who find themselves trapped in a detention center for a long time period. Utilizing the common language and religion alongside simple technologies based on social media manipulation techniques and the power of image, just a few malicious actors could prompt a genuine local revolt.
Was the Fire Intentional?
The fact that the weather at the night of the incident was ideal for an out-of-control wildfire due to the strong winds (another fire was also reported in the western part of Lesbos near the town of Vatoussa at approximately the same time) raises further concerns, indicating the the burning of the camp could well have been intentional.
The Two-Front Assault Scenario
The scenario of a mobilization of angry asylum seekers on Lesbos and other islands appropriately equipped through covert logistics operations, combined with a coordinated attack from Turkish tactical forces would find the Greek Armed Forces fighting on two different fronts at the same time, posing an appalling threat for the country.
Due to this possible scenario Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for an urgent meaning with the Ministers responsible for the management of the developing crisis, including the Head of the Greek National Intelligence Service and the Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff.
After several years of inadequate measures, Greece seems to be realizing the multi-dimensional challenge that the refugee crisis presents. Their actions from now on will prove if the Greek administration is ready to efficiently handle such a complex problem in these unprecedented times.