Riots Erupt at Greek Migrant Camp on Lesbos After Deadly Fire

ATHENS — The situation at a notorious reception center for migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos has stabilized after a fire left a woman dead and touched off rioting, the authorities said on Monday, with local politicians and the United Nations saying the developments were further evidence that conditions had long passed the breaking point.

Two fires broke out on Sunday afternoon, the Greek police said, one in an olive grove that is effectively an extension to the camp, followed by another blaze that started around 20 minutes later inside the center, which is designed to accommodate 3,000 people but is currently home to more than four times that number.

Human rights groups and others have long described the conditions at the camps as dangerous and inhumane, and the fires on Sunday ratcheted up tensions that were already high and have been exacerbated by clashes between different ethnic groups.

Kostas Moutzouris, a regional governor, told state television that the situation in the camp was a “powder keg” and called for action from central government. “Things are calm now, but the conditions are right for the situation to flare up again,” he said. “We need measures that will be implemented, not just announced.”

The upheaval has coincided with a sharp increase in the number of migrants reaching the Greek islands, with more than 22,000 reaching the Aegean islands since the beginning of July, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Over 7,000 migrants arrived on the Greek islands in August, and over 10,000 so far in September, the highest monthly figures since the European Union and Turkey signed a deal to limit migrant traffic across the Aegean in 2016, though less than 5 percent of the peak monthly totals at the height of the crisis in 2015.

Migrants clashed with police officers, lobbing stones and other projectiles, as firefighters sought to douse the blaze, but it was unclear whether the fires were set by inhabitants of the camp, who in the past have burned mattresses and trash to protest overcrowding and to demand their transfer to mainland Greece.

Nikolaos Ververis, a regional spokesman for the police, said on Monday morning, “The situation at the facility is now calm.” He said that the charred body of a woman was removed from the camp, near the village of Moria, on Sunday evening. The authorities would not confirm reports from aid groups that a child had also been killed.

Aid workers have repeatedly demanded an improvement in conditions, especially with the influx of migrants from neighboring Turkey on the rise. “Something has to happen, and soon,” Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, said on Sunday.

Mr. Cheshirkov noted that the unrest came just a few days after a 5-year-old Afghan boy was accidentally run over and killed by a truck on the fringes of the sprawling camp, a reflection of the chaotic state of affairs.

“This is an urgent situation. We need to see immediate action to ease the overcrowding,” Mr. Cheshirkov said on Monday, adding that, “We need to see people moving out, and the authorities transferring more people to the mainland.” He noted that “extraordinary measures” such as the leasing of hotels could be a stopgap until new facilities were created.

Transfers are underway, with 1,400 people leaving Moria this month, but a quicker pace is needed in light of continuing arrivals, he said. Most have been families from Afghanistan and Syria, Mr. Cheshirkov said, adding that there was particular concern about the swelling ranks of unaccompanied refugee children.

Mr. Cheshirkov also called for “more solidarity” for Greece from other European Union members, pointing to a relocation program, which expired two years ago after 23,000 people were moved out of Greece and sent elsewhere in the bloc. “We need another such program,” he said.

Many of those attempting the crossing to Europe in recent years have been using Turkey as a way station en route to Greece, but the authorities have also seen an increase in Turks making the sea journey following a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. On Friday, seven Turkish nationals — two women and five children — drowned when a boat carrying them capsized near the Greek island of Chios, also in the eastern Aegean.

With the pressure growing on the reception centers on the Aegean islands, migration was expected to top the agenda of a cabinet meeting on Monday chaired by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece, who last week discussed the problem with Mr. Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Greece’s public order minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis, met with 13 regional governors on Friday to discuss the transfer of thousands of migrants to the mainland. The aim is to set up facilities, ultimately one in each region, so that the burden of hosting the migrants is shared across the country.