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Thousands of migrants flee Greek camp after devastating fire

Nearly 4000 refugees from the camp in Moria are believed to have fled to nearby areas. Photograph: (AFP)

WION Athens, Greece Sep 20, 2016, 01.56 AM (IST)

A fire at one of Greece's main migrant camps on the island of Lesbos on Monday caused extensive damage, forcing thousands of refugees to flee to safety, police said. Firefighters were eventually able to bring the fire under control.

Police sources said that the fire had been set on purpose and that firefighters were unable to contain the damage earlier because of clashes among rival nationalities in the camp of Moria. Around 150 minors belonging to the camp were evacuated to a children's village on the island, a cop said.

Tents at the camp were "almost entirely destroyed" and containers that provide additional accommodation and health and registration services were damaged, a police source in Athens told AFP. He also disclosed that strong winds had further fuelled the flames forcing upto 4000 people to flee to the fields nearby.

Police were sent out after the migrants and were in the process of returning them to the camp, the officer, adding that there was "no doubt" that the fire had been set on purpose by those inside.

Greece houses around 60,000 refugees and migrants from all over the world. Most of them are Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war. Most of them have been using the country as a gateway to Germany and other affluent EU countries, but were unable to do so after several eastern European and Balkan states shut their borders earlier this year.

Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and others from the Indian subcontinent and north Africa considered to be economic migrants, and as such not automatically entitled to asylum in Europe. Brawls are common, with many desperate to avoid being returned to Turkey or their home countries after spending a small fortune and risking their lives trying to escape poverty and persecution.

The condition of the migrant camps in the country have repeatedly been criticised by human rights groups for being overcrowded and for the unhygienic surroundings. According to government data, there are over 13,000 people on five islands in facilities which are meant for less than 8,000. The situation is particularly acute on Lesbos - which houses around 5600 people, 2000 more than its capacity, and other eastern Aegean islands facing Turkey, where most of the migrants land and are held for registration.

The island's residents have been protesting, demanding the transportation of the migrants to the mainland - a part of an EU-Turkey deal designed to limit the influx of refugees and migrants to Greece's shores.

Tension rose in Moria on Monday after a rumour that migrants were about to be deported en masse to Turkey, state agency ANA reported. However, a strong police presence at the camp had initially calmed tempers, a police officer said.

Another two fires had broken out in the olive groves near Moria but were brought under control before the third fire erupted at the camp.

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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