Greece: Four Afghan migrants jailed over Moria campfire | Human rights news

Lawyers for the defendants denounce a “lack of sense of fairness” after the court found the couple guilty of arson.

Four Afghan asylum seekers were sentenced to 10 years in prison for their part in a fire who destroyed the Moria migrant camp in Greece last year.

The Chios court on Saturday declared the defendants guilty of arson while their lawyers denounced a “lack of fairness”, telling AFP news agency that they had immediately filed an appeal after the sentencing.

The young Afghans were taken to court in handcuffs and were to return to Avlona prison, near Athens, where they were being held prior to trial.

In March, two other young Afghans were sentenced to five years in prison in connection with the case.

Moria camp – on the Aegean island of Lesbos – housed more more than 10,000 people before it was destroyed by two fires in September 2020. No one died in fires.

View of the Moria camp destroyed by fires on the island of Lesbos [File: Reuters/Vassilis Triandafyllou]

Greek authorities believe the fires were deliberately started by occupants of the camp after quarantine measures were imposed following the discovery of cases of COVID-19 among people living at the site.

About 20 people, mainly members of foreign solidarity groups, gathered in front of the court to demand the release of the defendants.

Defense lawyers said the Afghans had not received a fair trial.

The accusation is largely based on the testimony of another Afghan asylum seeker who identified the six as the perpetrators.

But defense lawyers said the witness was not in court on Friday and did not appear for trial in March because he could not be located.

The defendants say they were targeted by the witness, a Pashtun ethnic group, as all six are Hazara, a persecuted minority in Afghanistan.

The other prosecution witnesses were police officers, firefighters called to the scene in September 2020 and staff from the European Asylum Service and non-governmental groups working in the camp.

Built in 2013 to accommodate up to 3,000 people, Moria camp was submerged in 2015 as a huge wave of people started arriving on small boats from Turkey.

Some 13,000 asylum seekers, including families with children, pregnant women and people with disabilities, had to sleep in the open air for a week after the camp was destroyed by fires.

Authorities have since built a temporary camp on Lesvos which accommodates around 6,000 people.

The EU has allocated $ 336 million to build a new permanent camp on Lesvos and for similar facilities on the islands of Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

Around 10,000 asylum seekers currently live on these five Aegean islands, the vast majority of them hoping to settle elsewhere in the EU.

A migrant carries her belongings after a fire at Moria camp [File: Reuters]

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