A Greek court sentenced four Afghan asylum seekers to 10 years in prison for taking part in a fire that destroyed the Moria migrant camp on Lesvos last September.
The four men were among a group of six Afghans detained by police following the fire. The other two were sentenced in March to five years in prison.
Defence lawyers said the men had been framed by a witness and that the court’s decision was “an inconceivable conviction without evidence”.
The fire destroyed the camp completely, leaving more than 12,000 people without shelter. The Moria camp was considered the biggest of its kind in Europe, albeit offering poor living conditions.The fire was set only days after continuous protest riots by camp residents complaining about the overcrowded facility.
Greek authorities believe the fire was deliberately set by camp occupants, as COVID-19 quarantine measures limited the movements of the asylum seekers. The occupants were mostly Syrian, Afghan, Iraqis and some from African countries.
The Afghan men, charged with arson, were found guilty after the court rejected a request by lawyers for three of them to be tried by a juvenile court because they were under 18 at the time.
A temporary camp was set up on the site of an old army firing range to house the old Moria occupants. Greek authorities have launched tenders for new closed centers on Lesbos and the nearby island of Chios.Meanwhile, new regulations about the economic assistance to asylum seekers have been put into effect by the Greek State.
The fire that destroyed the Moria camp
The fire that was deliberately set late at night on September 8 left the Moria camp destroyed completely, with the Greek government blaming the occupants for the disaster.
Greek authorities believe that camp residents started the fire angered by the lockdown measures and isolation orders imposed after 35 people tested positive for COVID-19.
There was one fire in the camp’s “Section 9” and another on the right side of an olive grove, according to a representative from Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, who posted a video to Twitter showing himself with the flames from the two fires in the background.
Some residents had apparently returned to the camp, trying to salvage what they could of what remained after the initial fire.
The fire had burned scores of tents, personal belongings and the containers in which migrants and refugees had made their homes while awaiting to be processed.
“What is certain is that the fire was started, because of the quarantine, by asylum-seekers in the facility,” said Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis.
“Such behavior is not acceptable, and also respect for law and order is a necessary precondition for the asylum process,” Mitarakis had said at the time.