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Fire at Reception Site on Lesvos island, Greece

Briefing notes

Fire at Reception Site on Lesvos island, Greece

20 September 2016 Also available in:

On Monday evening, a fire broke out at the Moria reception centre on the Greek island of Lesvos following clashes between residents. A large number of refugees and migrants were forced to leave the government-run site. Some 4,400 people were accommodated in the facility at the time. Around 95 unaccompanied children were transferred to the Pikpa reception site nearby. Based on initial reports, the fire did not cause any casualties but at least 30 people are reported to have light injuries and have been taken to hospital. Over 50 UNHCR Refugee Housing Units, accommodating some 800 people, were completely destroyed. There were other material damages to the site, including the destruction of tents. 

UNHCR is present in Moria and the other reception centres on the Greek islands. We have a team assessing the damage and will put up family tents today as an emergency accommodation measure for those affected. Non-governmental organizations will provide tents, mattresses, blankets and water. 

While the cause of the fire has not been determined yet, the incident confirms the critical security situation in Moria and other reception sites. UNHCR has repeatedly been calling upon the security and law enforcement authorities to increase security to protect refugees, migrants, aid workers and civil servants working in these sites. Increasing security would also help decrease fear of insecurity in the Greek population living nearby.

Poor living conditions, combined with a prevailing feeling of uncertainty, regularly fuel despair and frustration among asylum-seekers in Greece. On islands like Lesvos, the capacities for hosting refugees and migrants are overstretched. Lesvos hosts over 5,300 people and has a capacity of only 3,500. To reduce tension and overcrowding, UNHCR is working with the authorities and calls for the urgent transfer of unaccompanied and separated children, one of the most vulnerable groups, to the mainland, shorter waiting periods for asylum claims, particularly on the islands, faster registration and processing of cases for all nationalities and speedier return of those who are not in need of international protection.

UNHCR will continue to support the authorities to find solutions to the overcrowding. UNHCR staff helps identify, inform and transfer asylum-seekers by ferry and bus to mainland. In the case of unaccompanied children, we are helping to find adequate accommodation so that they can be moved to the mainland.


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