ATHENS – Five former residents of Moria refugee camp have been arrested in connection with a fire there last week, Greek authorities said on Tuesday.
The individuals were detained on suspicion of deliberately starting the fire that devastated the camp on the island of Lesbos on Wednesday.
Greece’s citizen protection minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said a sixth person is also being sought in connection with the incident.
Greek authorities said flames erupted simultaneously at three points in the site which led them to believe it was arson.
The fire broke out shortly after 35 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 were told they would be put into isolation, triggering protests among residents.
Humanitarian organizations had been warning for months of appalling sanitary conditions at the camp, which was at more than four times its official capacity.
Greek authorities have struggled to convince those left homeless by the blaze to move to temporary accommodation.
The government has launched an information campaign to persuade the nearly 12,000 people camped on roads on the island to move to the new camp.
“Your temporary accommodation center is ready. Please go immediately to the camp,” an official leaflet said.
“Accommodation there is mandatory and your admission is necessary to ensure decent living conditions, and for public and personal health reasons.
“In addition, to re-establish asylum procedures.”
Kara Tepe camp currently has room for 5,000 people in just under 700 UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tents and only has temporary toilets, but there are plans to install showers and running water.
Many of the people living in small tents or makeshift shelters around Moria say they do not believe the new site will have food or water.
“Camp no good, closed. No food, no water, problem,” a group of families says almost in unison to a local news crew.
There have been daily demonstrations since the fire with people calling for “peace and freedom.”
The majority of those who inhabited Moria were from Afghanistan and Pakistan, followed by people from Africa and a few Syrians.
Some have organized themselves in the parking lot of a large supermarket and two gas stations, forcing the businesses to close.
Many families are in makeshift shelters and cook potatoes or rice using pots mounted on stones by small fires.
There are a lot of women with children and babies, with the little ones running around playing and shouting “Germany, Germany.”
The German government has offered to take 1,500 stranded asylum seekers from the island, not only unaccompanied children but also families.
Meanwhile, the Greek government has struggled to persuade people to move to Kara Tepe, despite threats that they will not be able to leave the island if they do not.
“We have prepared this camp so that you can safely wait for your departure from Lesbos as soon as possible once the legal procedures have been completed,” the leaflet said.
“Only if you enter the camp can you make the necessary procedures to leave Lesbos.”
The flyer, which has been translated into a number of languages, warned them not to pay attention to rumors or fake news but only official government announcements.
Chrisochoidis said half of Moria’s former residents should have been relocated to mainland Europe by Christmas, with the rest due to follow by Easter.
He added that in recent months the number of migrants and refugees on Lesbos has dropped from 23,000 to 12,000 and promised that in the coming days another 2,000 will be able to leave the island.
Greece has accelerated transfers of vulnerable people and asylum procedures in recent months.
The minister said that sea and land borders have been closed, which has stopped more people from arriving on the island.
Two boats have arrived on Lesbos this month, but on Monday a vessel sank off the coast of Crete leaving at least three dead and 57 survivors.