Firefighters are trying to contain the fire at the refugee camp, home to an estimated 13,000 people, more than six times its maximum capacity of 2,200 people.
There are no reports of injuries so far, and authorities have said they are still assessing the scope of the damage. George Moutafis, a photographer on the ground, told Greek TV channel Mega that the camp has been “completely destroyed.”
“The Moria camp no longer exists. The camp has been completely destroyed. The containers and tents have been completely destroyed. The fires are now out. Many migrants and refugees are now back at the camp and looking for their belongings,” Moutafis said.
The cause of the fire remains unknown, according to Greek authorities. The camp is under lockdown after 35 people tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week. Local media suggested the fires may have been started deliberately.
A German charity group at the scene said a protest erupted at the camp on Tuesday night over lockdown measures.
“In the evening, the anger and despair of the refugees who have been interned at Moria erupted,” the German group Mission Lifeline said in a statement.
“First there was a dispute at the Covid19 station in the camp which spread to the entire area during the night. Security forces used tear gas,” the statement said. “A large part of the dwellings burned down. The homeless people fled into the surrounding olive groves.”
Axel Steier, Co-founder of Mission Life, said he warned that the situation would “escalate” over the camp’s poor conditions, calling the lockdown measures “the final straw.”
“The people in Moria are exposed to extreme psychological stress. The lockdown of the camp has now been the final straw,” said Steier. “The refugees in Moria are not treated as humans.
“Among other things, we asked the (German) federal government, again and again, to evacuate all people from the Greek camps. But hardly anything has happened,” Steier added.
The Moria encampment extends out of the main UN camp into olive groves where thousands live in makeshift wooden huts they built out of wooden pellets and tarpaulin, hammered down with nails. The inhabitants say they wait for hours to use a bathroom and sometimes spend an entire day queuing for food.
When CNN reported from the camp in March, a rank odor filled the air, the river was strewn in garbage and camp dwellers staged protests at the island’s main port on a nearly daily basis demanding transport to the Greek mainland.