Fire forces migrants into 'prison-like' camp on Greek island of Samos

Greece says new site is a 'closed controlled access centre' but critics say it resembles a prison

The transfer of migrants to the new site began on Monday. AP

Greece has begun housing asylum seekers in a new "closed" camp after a fire swept through the previous camp, which was scheduled for closure.

About 200 people are being moved to the new camp in the hills of Samos island on Monday, and another 200 will follow on Tuesday.

On Sunday, a fire broke out at the Vathy migrant camp, a day after the Samos camp opened.

Both the old and the new camps have been subjects of debate - the Vathy centre for its unsanitary, overcrowded conditions and the new complex for what human rights activists have called its prison-like nature.

Greek authorities call the new site a “closed controlled access centre”, which can house 3,000 people in better facilities than the old, dilapidated camp.

Thirteen firefighters with six engines fought the blaze on Sunday and there were no injuries, the fire brigade said

“There is no danger for those who are still there because the fire broke out in abandoned sheds in the western side of the camp,” the ministry for migration said.

Migrants, including children in tears, were gathered at a car park near the camp.

The camp, due for closure at the end of the month, was still housing about people awaiting transfer to the new camp that was opened by Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi.

The camp is the first of five being built to open. AFP

After the fire, all of the asylum seekers were moved to an empty space near the entrance of the camp, the ministry said.

The new Samos camp is the first of five such centres being opened, which are opposed by rights groups who say the access measures are too restrictive.

A double barbed-wire fence surrounds the 12,000-square-metre camp, which has surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic doors.

It also includes a detention centre for migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected and who are to be sent back to Turkey.

“Today is a historic day … a day of joy for us,” said Manos Logothetis, of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, as the first asylum seekers entered the camp.

At the entrance, police lined the residents up, checking them for weapons or dangerous objects, and giving them clean bedsheets.

“People are just angry for what will happen in the new camp. They think that it's prison, but I don't think that. It will be better than here - no mosquitoes, no rats,” said Didier Tcakonmer, a 28-year-old Cameroonian who has spent more than two years on the island.

Campaigners had long denounced conditions at the Vathy camp.

Samos is one of the Aegean Islands taking in migrants from nearby Turkey. Between 2015 and 2016 it sheltered about 7,000 asylum seekers. It was only built to take in 680 people.

A year ago, the overcrowded camp at Moria, on the nearby Greek island of Lesbos, went up in flames, destroyed in two fires that in quick succession left 13,000 people without shelter for several days.

Updated: September 20, 2021, 3:21 PM