Kara Tepe transit site, Lesbos, Greece 2016 / Credit:  Better Shelter
Kara Tepe transit site, Lesbos, Greece 2016 / Credit: Better Shelter

A 27-year-old Afghan mother died after a small fire broke out in a migrant camp on the island of Lesbos. Firefighters are investigating the cause of the fire.

An Afghan woman is dead and her husband is suffering from smoke inhalation after a small fire broke out in the container where the 27-year-old mother was living with her husband and three children aged 5, 3 and an infant. The husband of the woman is reportedly suffering from smoke inhalation but, according to Voice of America (VOA), the children are unharmed.

The woman’s husband, who, according to the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini was 28 years old, had managed to save the three children before collapsing from smoke inhalation, unable to save his wife. He is being treated in Mytilene hospital for breathing problems, reported Ekathimerini.

“Our heart goes out to [the woman] and her three children,” tweeted Doctors without Borders (MSF).

They added that after surviving “the struggle of Afghanistan, the mountains and the sea,” the woman had “died a horrific death in a fire in a container on Lesbos.” MSF Sea concluded: “She was looking for safety, but Europe couldn’t keep her safe.”

Cause of fire: Gas explosion?

The fire in the container started just before 2 am on Thursday, December 5, according to VOA. It is unclear what caused the fire but investigators suspect it could have been an explosion in the gas bottle the family used for cooking.Picture shows refugee children playing outside their tent at the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos island, Greece.PHOTO/ARCHIVE/EPA/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU

Firefighters discovered the woman’s burnt body after they had extinguished the fire, reported the French news agency AFP. The woman and her family were staying in the municipal-run Karatepe camp on Lesbos. Mostly vulnerable groups, like families with small children, are residents there.

InfoMigrants Dari reporters, who spoke to people from the Karatepe camp when they were on Lesbos in October 2019, said that people told them the camp provided much better living standards for inhabitants than nearby Moria camp, which has become a byword for appalling living conditions and overcrowding. According to AFP the camp at Karatepe is home to around 1,300 people.

Not the first death on the islands

The United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR and its partners are supporting the father and his three children, reported VOA.Photo of a fire inside Moria Camp in Lesbos, Greece. The Camp’s director says it was deliberately lit by a 15-year-old Afghan boy, who had been drinking alcohol.  © Amateur, January 2019

This is not the first fire that has taken place on the Greek islands, in camps which are repeatedly criticized for their inhumane living conditions. The woman’s death comes just a few weeks after a nine-month-old Congolese baby died of severe dehydration in the Moria camp on Lesbos. It was a death which, according to Doctors without Borders (MSF) “could have been avoided.”

Since the numbers of arrivals to the Greek islands began increasing in Summer 2019, the Greek government has stepped up efforts to transfer more of those waiting for their asylum claims to be heard to the mainland. They have pledged to move 20,000 people by the end of the year but the latest figures from UNHCR show that there are still some 38,800 people on the islands. 43% of those come from Afghanistan.

New solutions from the EU

Since the beginning of November about 1,000 to 1,500 people are being transferred every week from the Greek islands to the mainland by UNHCR.

The woman’s death took place just before the new EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, was due to visit Greece to talk about migration. Johansson later tweeted, during her visit to a center for children in Athens, that “conditions [on the islands] are unacceptable, especially for children.” It was a subject, she continued that she “discussed today both with NGOs and the Greek government.”

Johansson added, in another tweet after meeting the Greek Prime Minister and his team, that “Greek challenges are European challenges.” She promised that “together we will achieve tangible and balanced results.”

Since the new EU Commission began work on December 1 the mandate reinforcing the European Border and Coastguard Agency Frontex has entered into force.

The Commission promises 10,000 more border guards and personnel over the next few years.

Johansson told the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: “We need to unlock this blocked situation and find a common solution for migration and asylum, for Europeans and migrants and asylum seekers too.” 


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