By: Lauren Markham | theguardian.com | 21 April 2022
‘A disaster waiting to happen’: who was really responsible for the fire at Moria refugee camp?
About 11pm on the night of 8 September 2020, residents of the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos were roused from sleep by the smell of smoke and the sound of urgent voices. Sedique, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan, remembers her neighbours bellowing: “Run, run, run!” She poked her head outside her tent and saw fire burning below them on the hillside a few hundred metres away. Along with her parents and two younger siblings, she gathered documents, grabbed an armful of clothing and ran.
The first blaze had caught hold in the official camp, then spread among the clusters of tents outside its walls. At that time, an estimated 12,000 people were living in Moria, most of them in tents packed together so tightly on the steep hillsides above the main camp that there was barely room to walk between them. The flames leaped from one makeshift shelter to the next, making easy work of the plastic tarps and rickety shacks. The olive trees, too, caught fire. Embers blown on the wind caught on people’s shirts and headscarves, and on the trees and brittle grasses, as rats skittered about.
Throughout the camp, walls of flame and thick smoke blocked the pathways and made it difficult to breathe. By midnight, the sky glowed orange. The road below the camp filled with people heading towards the safety of the city of Mytilene, six miles south. Sedique’s family joined the procession, but the police had set up a blockade about a mile before the turnoff to Mytilene.
“Behind us was fire,” one refugee told me later, “and in front of us were police.”