A STATE of emergency has been declared on the Greek island of Lesbos after thousands of potentially Covid infected refugees fled as fire destroyed their camp.
Health bosses fear the migrants could spread coronavirus and spark a massive outbreak after the Moria camp was "completely destroyed" by a deadly blaze — suspected to have been arson.
One person has reportedly died, although further details of injuries are not clear at this stage.
It comes after a coronavirus outbreak was detected in the camp — which is Europe's largest — with 35 cases recorded.
Migrants were told to self-isolate but many refused and began rioting shortly before the fire broke out.
Regional fire chief Konstantinos Theofilopoulos told state-run ERT television the fire broke out at more than three places in quick succession — and that firefighters were hampered from battling the flames by residents who were protesting about having to self-isolate.
Much of the camp has been gutted as have the surrounding hillside olive groves.
Aid agencies have long warned of dire living conditions at Moria, where more than 12,500 have been living in and around a facility built to house more than 2,750.
Meanwhile a state of emergency was declared on the island starting for public health reasons and will be in effect for four months, Greece's civil protection authority announced.
ARSON PROBE LAUNCHED
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said It has been a “very difficult night”.
All possible causes of the fire, including arson, were now being examined.
Those who had been living in Moria would not be allowed to leave the island to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus.
The camp was put under lockdown after a Somali man was found to have been infected with the virus.
A major testing drive was ordered, and 35 people who tested positive had been quarantined in a separate facility that was not affected by the fire, officials said.
Greece's interior and migration ministers, along with the head of the country's public health organization, were heading to Lesbos following an emergency meeting convened this morning by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The commander of Greece's intelligence service, the civil protection head and the chief of defence general staff participated in the meeting.
European authorities, who have often come under criticism for not doing enough to ease the migration burden on countries at Europe's southern borders such as Greece, Italy and Spain, were quick to offer help.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted: “What's happening in Moria is a humanitarian catastrophe.
"In cooperation with the EU Commission and other EU member states willing to help we need to sort out as quickly as possible how we can support Greece.
“This includes the distribution of refugees among those in the EU that are willing to take them.”
Lesbos was Europe's busiest crossing point in 2015-16 for illegal migration during a massive westward movement of refugees, many fleeing war in Syria and Iraq and traveling through Turkey.
After that wave of migration, Greece set up camps on Lesbos and four other islands, with help from European Union funding, and more recently also set up a network of camps on the mainland.
Migrant arrivals in Europe have declined consistently since their peak in 2015, when more than one million people entered irregularly, primarily from Turkey to Greece.
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