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Woman's death sparks unrest at overcrowded refugee camp on Greek island

Iraqi woman who died was taken with fever to hospital earlier this week, where test for coronavirus returned negative
Woman sits at door of tent in over-crowded Vial camp on Greek island of Chios recently (AFP/File photo)

A fire ripped through one of Greece's largest migrant camps leaving widespread damage and many people homeless after the death of an Iraqi woman sparked unrest, officials said on Sunday.

The Iraqi woman who died had been taken with a fever to a hospital earlier this week. A test for coronavirus had returned negative, state news agency ANA reported on Saturday.

The blaze late Saturday at Vial camp on Chios island destroyed the facilities of the European asylum service, a camp canteen, warehouse tents and many housing containers, Migration Ministry Secretary Manos Logothetis told AFP.

"A large part of the camp's administrative services were destroyed," said Logothetis, adding that no injuries were reported.

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The UN refugee agency's spokesman in Athens, Boris Cheshirkov, said the damage is still being evaluated but that many camp residents have likely been left homeless.

"Authorities are still assessing the damages, but a few hundred people are likely affected because their shelters have burned down. We have donated tents to the authorities which can quickly be put into use and we will assist in replacing the warehouse tents," he said.

A police source in Athens said two Afghans and an Iraqi had been arrested in relation to the unrest.

Migrant camps in Greece have been under quarantine in recent weeks, with authorities trying to keep residents apart from locals.

The virus has so far killed 110 people in Greece. Another 67 are in intensive care.

No coronavirus cases have been reported in the island camps so far, but two camps on the mainland have registered cases.

As with all of Greece's island camps, Vial is massively overcrowded with more than 5,000 people living in space intended for around 1,000.

About 100,000 asylum seekers are currently stranded in Greece after other European states closed their borders in 2016.

Overall, more than 36,000 people are sheltering in the camps on islands near Turkey that were originally built for 6,100.

The migration ministry has said it will begin moving hundreds of elderly and ailing asylum seekers out of the island camps to protect them from the coronavirus.

Group of 47 unaccompanied children prepare to leave for Germany from Athens airport on Saturday (AFP)
Group of 47 unaccompanied children prepare to leave for Germany from Athens airport on Saturday (AFP)

A scheme to gradually relocate 1,600 unaccompanied minors from war-torn countries to other European nations also began last week.

Greece transferred a dozen unaccompanied children from migrant camps to Luxembourg, the first of the relocations that are being expedited amid concerns over the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable groups, Reuters reported.

The dozen children relocated, who were of Syrian and Afghan descent, had a send-off on Wednesday at Athens airport, where a Greek migration minister gave them souvenirs, according to the BBC. They were greeted by Luxembourg’s foreign minister at the other end.

On Saturday, a group of 47 children landed in Hanover, Germany. They were all tested for the coronavirus before departure and will remain in two-week quarantine before moving on to other German states, according to the Daily Mail.

Human Rights Watch recently called on Greece to release all unaccompanied minors, saying their detention in overcrowded camps or in police cells heightened the risk of them contracting Covid-19.