The fire at Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Courtesy Ihab Abbasi
The fire at Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

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The fire was started by refugees at the camp, police say

The blaze followed protests over wait times for asylum applications

CNN —  

Around 4,000 people were evacuated from a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Monday evening after a fire ripped through the site.

Half of the refugee camp – one of the largest in Greece – was destroyed by the fire, which police and witnesses say was started by some of the people who lived there.

Around 95 unaccompanied children were transferred to the Pikpa reception site nearby, said the UNHCR.
Courtesy Ihab Abbasi
Around 95 unaccompanied children were transferred to the Pikpa reception site nearby, said the UNHCR.

Earlier in the day, around 2,000 refugees staged a protest, calling on authorities to speed up the asylum application process, according to independent volunteer Ihab Abassi, who was on the grounds at the time.

Fighting erupted between some refugees during the rally and some set fire to the site, authorities said. Lesbos police reported nine people were arrested.

“Over 50 UNHCR Refugee Housing Units, accommodating some 800 people, were completely destroyed,” United Nations Refugee Agency spokesman William Spindler said in a statement.

Thirty people were taken to hospitals with “light injuries,” he added.

The UNHCR has provided replacement tents for refugees left homeless by the blaze.

Read more: Three generations of refugees on today’s crisis

Frustrations flow over

The island of Lesbos currently hosts more than 5,300 refugees – yet has a capacity of just 3,500, said Spindler.

“Poor living conditions, combined with a prevailing feeling of uncertainty, regularly fuel despair and frustration among asylum-seekers in Greece,” he added.

The UNHCR urged authorities to speed up the transfer of unaccompanied children to the mainland, and introduce shorter waiting times for asylum claims.

Lesbos: Gateway to Europe

For the hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war in the Middle East and making the treacherous sea crossing to Greece, Lesbos is often their first stop.

Read more: ‘We are monsters if we don’t do this’ – Greek islanders on front line of crisis

This year, 264,513 people arrived in Europe by sea, landing mostly in Greece and Italy, according to International Organization of Migration (IOM) estimates released in mid-August.

Of those who attempted the crossing, 3,165 people have died at sea, authorities said. At this rate, according to the IOM, the number of deaths will likely exceed last year’s total of 3,771.

CNN’s Elinda Labropoulou contributed to this report