A 66-old Iraqi Kurdish woman and her six-year old grandson were burnt to death on Thursday night when a cooking gas canister exploded in their tent at Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. The boy’s mother and his four-year-old brother, who were in the next tent, suffered severe burns. The fire was quickly put out, but as the camp was evacuated, some of the refugees started fires in their wake that caused widespread destruction.
As the winter cold begins to bite and many of the 16,000 migrants and refugees stranded on the Greek islands continue to be housed in temporary shelters, more fires are inevitable. Some will be the result of the migrants trying to keep warm or cook in their tents. Others will be set deliberately in a desperate act of protest.
Fires at Moria, usually the result of riots, have become frequent since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal in March. The agreement envisaged that migrants arriving to the Greek islands would be briefly detained until they could be processed and returned to Turkey, given asylum in Greece, or relocated elsewhere in Europe. In reality, few migrants have left Lesvos. Most are still waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, even as small numbers continue to arrive.
The capacity of Moria is 2,000 people, but the camp now has around 4,500 residents. Other facilities on the island host another 1,500. Several other Aegean islands are experiencing similar levels of overcrowding and an increasingly tense atmosphere. Violent clashes between refugees and locals also broke out recently on Chios.
Several refugees I spoke to on Thursday night after the deadly fire asked me the same question: “Will this help open the borders?” But the European policies that keep them on the islands are not determined by humanitarian considerations. They are driven by a desire to keep the migrants as far from the centre of Europe as possible. And Lesvos is at one of the furthest corners of Europe.