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Riots break out at Greek island refugee camp after deadly blaze

Police fired tear gas to control crowd angered over the time it took for fire brigade to arrive at Moira camp on island of Lesbos
Man and boy cry after police fire tear gas during clashes at Moira refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Sunday (AFP)

At least two people died on Sunday in a fire at a Greek island refugee camp, with the blaze triggering rioting by angry residents.

After the fire was extinguished, police fired tear gas to control a crowd angered over the time it had taken for a fire brigade to arrive at the Moira camp on the island of Lesbos, an AFP correspondent reported. 

Athens News Agency, citing police sources, reported that a woman and a child had died in the fire. Reuters, citing emergency services, said one person had died, adding that police could not immediately reach an area of containers, where there were unconfirmed reports of another burned body.

An Afghan migrant eyewitness, however, told AFP that a woman and two children had died, describing how the blaze spread to six or seven containers used to house residents.

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"We found two children completely charred and a woman dead. We gave the children covered in blankets to the fire brigade," said Fedouz, 15.

Additional officers were sent from Athens in C-130 army airplanes in a bid to contain the situation.

Deputy Minister of Citizen Protection Lefteris Economou, along with the chief of police and the secretary general for migration policy, were also heading to Lesbos.

Migrants said they were angry over the time it took for the fire brigade to arrive, claiming that a long delay had led to the fatalities.

In a statement, police said the riots occurred after two separate fires broke out, first outside and then inside Moria camp with a time gap of twenty minutes.

The camp hosts about 13,000 people but has facilities for only 3,000.

It has become like a small town with UN refugee agency tents for about 8,000 people sprawling into the olive fields of nearby Moria village. Others are housed in containers. 

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Greece is hosting 70,000 mostly Syrian refugees and migrants who have fled their countries since 2015 and crossed over from neighbouring Turkey.

Almost a million refugees fleeing war in Syria and migrants crossed from Turkey to Greece's islands in 2015.

Under an agreement reached with the European Union in 2016, Turkey has made greater efforts to limit departures towards the five Greek islands closest to its shores.

Still, the number of arrivals has been steadily climbing in recent months, causing a dangerous burden on the camps of the islands that are at the forefront of the influx.

More than 9,000 people arrived in August, the highest number in the three years since the European Union and Ankara implemented the deal to shut off the Aegean migrant route.

More than 8,000 people have arrived so far in September.

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