Greek PM expresses shock at refugee deaths in camp blaze

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister expressed shock Friday at the deaths of a woman and child in a fire that raged through an island refugee camp used for migrants facing deportation back to Turkey, while rights groups condemned the loss of life.

Alexis Tsipras said he was “shocked, as is the entire Greek nation, by the tragic event” in the Moria camp on Lesbos overnight. The aid agency International Rescue Committee described the deaths as “a damning indictment of the ineptitude of Eurpean leaders’ response to the refugee crisis.”

Police said a cooking gas canister sparked the fire, and that the victims were a young boy and an older woman. Another woman and a second child were severely injured and flown to Athens, where they were hospitalized in serious condition, while several others were less seriously hurt.

Migrants at the camp clashed with police as they were evacuated from the camp during the blaze, which was extinguished by firefighters.

“The Greek government is fighting a determined battle in difficult circumstances for the humanitarian management of the refugee issue, and will further intensify its efforts for security and quality of life in the shelters,” Tsipras said in a statement.

Panos Navrozidis, the IRC’s country director for Greece, said in a statement that the group had already warned of the dangers of overcrowded conditions in Greek camps, and about conditions in Moria.

“As a humanitarian, it is soul-crushing to see events like this happen within the European Union,” he said. “It is an abdication of our responsibility as global leaders that we, in Europe, refuse to do better for some of the world’s most vulnerable.”

Protests have repeatedly occurred at overcrowded deportation camps. Under a deal reached in March between Turkey and the European Union, migrants arriving on Greek islands from Turkey face deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. The deal was designed to stanch the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants into the European Union via the Aegean Sea route.

While the number of people arriving on Greek islands has dropped significantly as a result, it has not stopped altogether. Thousands of people are stranded in severely overcrowded camps on the islands, leading to tension within the camps as well as with locals. In total, more than 62,000 people are stranded in Greece, while an EU agreement to relocate tens of thousands of them to other European countries is suffering severe delays.

Separately on Friday, the coast guard said a patrol boat located 42 migrants on a sailboat 36 nautical miles (41 miles; 66 kilometers) southeast of the southern Greek island of Crete. The vessel was located after one of the passengers made a call to emergency services, the coast guard said. All the passengers were transported to the town of Ierapetra on Crete, and were reported in good health.

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