UNHCR ramps up support for asylum seekers affected by Moria camps blaze


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed shocked and sadness at events on Lesbos Island this week where a series of fires have destroyed nearly all of Moria’s asylum centre, leaving thousands of men, women and children, without shelter.

UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said the agency has been offering support to Greek authorities to help protect and assist asylum seekers affected by the fires, mobilizing resources and aid.

Mantoo said the UNHCR is providing emergency assistance to ensure people don’t sleep in the open.

With the initial fire which broke out on the evening of Tuesday Sept. 08 causing extensive damage to thousands of asylum seekers’ shelters and common areas, more fires were reported on the evening of Sept. 09 and yesterday, Sept. 10.

The latest fires have affected the adjacent fields next to Moria Reception and Identification Center (RIC), in what is known as “Olive Grove”, destroying what remaining accommodation was still available.

While no casualties have been reported to date, the fires have now left 11,500 asylum seekers, among them 2,200 women and 4,000 children, without adequate shelter, sleeping out in the open over the past few nights in the streets, field and beaches.

Among them are vulnerable people, very young children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with disabilities.

UNHCR fear that the coronavirus pandemic is also adding to an already desperate situation. People tested positive for COVID-19 need to be provided the soonest possible with special care, isolation and treatment arrangements and medical support.

UNHCR has advised all those previously staying in the RIC to restrict their movements until temporary solutions are found.

Amid a very challenging and fluid situation, we urge all to exercise restraint and refrain from actions or rhetoric that could heighten tensions.

While authorities are working to find immediate shelter arrangements, UNHCR urges that long-term solutions need to be identified for refugees and asylum seekers in Moria and other sites on the Greek islands.

Mantoo said UNHCR has long been highlighting the need to address the situation and conditions for asylum seekers on the Aegean Islands.

The incidents at Moria demonstrate the long-standing need to take action to improve living conditions, alleviate overcrowding, improve security, infrastructure and access to services in all five reception centres on the Greek islands.

Mantoo said UNHCR continues to advocate for more support including from European countries and EU institutions, such as through expedited relocations of unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people.

The recent announcements made by European countries to take in unaccompanied minors and families with children from Greece have been welcomed by UNHCR. (Source: UNHCR)