Authorities on the island of Lesvos called for the immediate evacuation Tuesday of thousands of refugees to the Greek mainland after a fire gutted a detention camp following protests. But European Union officials appeared cool to the idea.
More than 4,000 people were housed at the camp in Moria on Lesvos where the fire broke out late Monday, destroying or damaging tents and trailers. No injuries were reported at the camp, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of the island's main town.
Nine migrants were arrested on public disturbance charges after the chaotic scenes.
Families with young children hastily packed up their belongings and fled into the nearby fields as the fire raged after nightfall. Many were later given shelter at volunteer-run camps.
“We have been saying for a very long time that overcrowding on the islands must be eased,” regional governor Christiana Kalogirou told private Skai television.
“On the islands of the northeast Aegean, official facilities have a capacity of 5,450 places, but more than 10,500 people are there. There is an immediate need to take people off the islands because things will get even more difficult,” she said.
More than 60,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in transit in Greece, and those who arrived after March 20 have been restricted to five Aegean islands under an EU-brokered deal to deport them back to Turkey. But the agreement has been fraught with delays.
In Brussels, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, Natasha Bertaud, said the Greek government had described the situation as being under control. Transfers to the mainland, she said, would remain limited.
“To avoid secondary movement to the rest of Europe, that means keeping asylum seekers on the islands for the most part,” Bertaud said.
The government is expected to charter passenger ferries to provide temporary accommodation, and increase the police presence on Lesvos – defending the deportation deal that came under renewed criticism from human rights groups.
“The EU and Greece cannot carry on stockpiling refugees indefinitely on the Greek islands,” Amnesty International's Giorgos Kosmopoulos said.
“Witnessing the charred remains of Moria camp is shocking but comes as little surprise. Holding thousands of vulnerable people on Lesvos in appalling conditions with no knowledge of their fate inevitably creates an incendiary atmosphere of fear and despondency.”