Greece: Four Afghan migrants jailed over Moria camp fire

Lawyers for the defendants denounce ‘lack of sense of fairness’ after the court found the pair guilty of arson.

A migrant walks among destroyed shelters following a fire at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou
The Moria camp housed more than 10,000 people before it was destroyed by two fires in September 2020 [Elias Marcou/Reuters]

Four Afghan asylum-seekers have been sentenced to 10 years in prison for their part in a fire that destroyed the Moria migrant camp in Greece last year.

The court in Chios found the defendants guilty of arson on Saturday while their lawyers denounced a “lack of sense of fairness”, telling AFP news agency they had immediately filed for an appeal after the sentence was handed down.

The young Afghans were taken to the court handcuffed and were expected to return to the Avlona jail outside Athens, where they were held before the trial.

In March, two other Afghan youths were sentenced to five years in prison in connection with the case.

The Moria camp – on the Aegean island of Lesbos – housed more than 10,000 people before it was destroyed by two fires in September 2020. No one died in the fires.

View of the destroyed Moria camp following the fires on the island of Lesbos [File: Reuters/Vassilis Triandafyllou]

Greek authorities believe the fires were deliberately lit by camp occupants after quarantine measures were imposed following the discovery of COVID-19 cases among people living on the site.

Approximately 20 people, mainly members of foreign solidarity groups, gathered outside the court to call for the defendants to be freed.

Defence lawyers said the Afghans did not get a fair trial.

The prosecution is based in large part on the testimony of another Afghan asylum seeker who identified the six as the perpetrators.

But according to defence lawyers, the witness was not in court on Friday and did not appear for the trial in March as he could not be located.

The defendants claim they were targeted by the witness, an ethnic Pashtun, as all six are Hazara, a persecuted minority in Afghanistan.

Other witnesses for the prosecution were police officers, firefighters called to the scene in September 2020 and staff from the European Asylum Service and nongovernmental groups who worked at the camp.

Built in 2013 to hold up to 3,000 people, the Moria camp was overwhelmed in 2015 as a huge wave of people began arriving on small boats from Turkey.

Some 13,000 asylum-seekers, among them families with children, pregnant women and people with disabilities had to sleep in the open for a week after the camp was destroyed by the fires.

Authorities have since built a temporary camp on Lesbos that hosts about 6,000 people.

The EU has allocated $336m to build a new permanent camp on Lesbos, and for similar facilities on the islands of Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

Approximately 10,000 asylum-seekers are currently living on these five Aegean islands, the vast majority of them hoping to settle elsewhere in the EU.

A migrant carries her belongings following a fire at the Moria camp [File: Reuters]
Source: News Agencies