A state of emergency was declared on the eastern Aegean island of Samos on Tuesday after a fire at its overcrowded refugee reception center on Monday night forced hundreds of migrants into the streets following interethnic clashes that left three Syrian men injured.
The fire at the Vathy facility – which was designed to hold 700 people but is hosting around 6,000 – broke out at around 10.30 p.m. on Monday. It appears that the fire was set by protesters after a brawl earlier in the evening between Afghan and Syrian men in which three Syrians sustained knife injuries. Four people were arrested in connection with the violence while an investigation was under way to determine how the fire broke out.
The blaze destroyed 31 tents but caused no serious injuries. It also prompted hundreds of migrants to leave the facility – with around 400 seeking shelter at a hotel, unsuccessfully, and another 200 going to the port’s main square.
Most of the migrants returned to the camp during the night following an intervention by local police but local aid groups stressed that the situation at the camp was not tenable.
“This nightmare must end!” Medecins Sans Frontieres wrote on Twitter, calling for the transfer of children and other vulnerable individuals to the mainland. Two additional police units were dispatched to Samos yesterday amid rising tensions.
The Samos fire came just two weeks after a large blaze at the Moria center on Lesvos which is currently hosting 14,000 people amid an increase in arrivals from Turkey.
Speaking in Greece’s Parliament on Tuesday, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos called for speedier processing of asylum applications.