Four young Afghan migrants went on trial in Greece on Friday accused of starting the devastating fires that burnt down the Moria camp on Lesvos, 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 of 2020.
The four Afghans, who are on trial on the neighboring island of Chios, are charged with intentional arson leading to risk to human life and membership in a criminal group.
Two other Afghan youths were jailed for five years over the same case in March.
Multiple fires at the Lesvos migrant camp
Thousands of migrants fled the overcrowded camp at Moria in September of 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 had been 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 migrants and 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, Kara Tepe, that is now home to some 6,000 people.
“The worst refugee camp on earth”
Built in 2013 to house a maximum of 3,000 individuals, 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 migrants and 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 the “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 called on Greece and the EU to improve the conditions in the camp.
Some 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently living across Greece’s Aegean islands, the vast majority of them hoping to settle elsewhere in the EU.