Syrian refugees stand as they gather during the visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to al-Dalhamiyeh camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon March 25, 2016. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Syrian refugees stand as they gather during the visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to al-Dalhamiyeh camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon March 25, 2016. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

Europe should not turn a blind eye to Moria, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said on Thursday after the country’s largest refugee and migrant camp on the northeastern Aegean sea island of Lesvos turned to ashes.

A series of blazes that erupted in the overcrowded camp housing about 13,000 people over the past three days caused extensive damage, leaving thousands homeless.

As Greek authorities were struggling to accommodate the 3,500 residents who were left without a roof over their heads from the first big fire that broke out on Tuesday night, more flames engulfed on Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon whatever had been left, Greek national news agency AMNA reported.

The full picture of the destruction and the number of people who are now homeless is not clear yet, government spokesperson Stelios Petsas told a press briefing in Athens on Thursday.

An investigation is underway to determine how the fires have started. Regarding the first blaze on Tuesday evening, Greek officials have said that it broke out while some of the residents were resisting lockdown measures and isolation orders imposed after the announcement that 35 people had tested positive for COVID-19 at the camp.

“There are a few who do not respect the country hosting them. They left homeless thousands, including families with children. They did it because they thought that if they set Moria on fire, they will be all transferred from the island. They did not understand correctly,” Petsas said during the briefing, according to an e-mailed statement.

Regardless of the causes, the state mechanism has been mobilized to provide shelter to those affected, with priority given to the most vulnerable, Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi told local TV channel SKAI.

Panic-stricken minors, elderly, people with health problems were among the thousands who fled the flames and sought refuge in nearby fields on Wednesday and Thursday.

A Greek ferry and two Greek navy ships sailed to Lesvos to accommodate some of the refugees and migrants, while temporary shelters were being created in two former military camps.

“The disaster in Moria fills us with pain and concern. The conditions do not permit delays, the refusal or transfer of responsibilities, or belligerent cries. And above all, they do not allow Europe to turn a blind eye. The refugee and migration issues are primarily a European problem and must be addressed as such,” Sakellaropoulou said in a statement released on Thursday.

The local community on the island of Lesvos has shown touching solidarity and humanity and taken on a disproportionate burden but is now watching the spread of tension on the island with fear and concern, and this tension was made even greater due to the health crisis, the president added.

Half of the more than a million people, who reached Greece mainly from the Turkish shores since 2015, landed on Lesvos. Most continued their journey to other European countries until the winter of 2016 when borders along the Balkan route were sealed off.

Nearly 100,000 asylum seekers are currently stranded in Greece, according to data provided by the Greek government.

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