27-Year-Old Mother Dies in Fire at Refugee Camp, Husband and Children Escape

A 27-year-old mother of three has died after a fire broke out in the container where she and her family were sleeping at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières which operates on the island, the woman whose identity has yet to be confirmed was Afghani and had come to Greece with her family in search of refuge.

The family had been sleeping in the container at the Kara Tepe refugee camp when the fire broke out at around 2 a.m., an MSF spokesperson told Newsweek. The woman's husband was able to escape the blaze with their three children, with none of the other family members seriously injured.

It is still unclear what might have caused the blaze. However, as MSF noted, Kara Tepe is typically considered a safe site with the camp housing hundreds of vulnerable families and around 1,300 people.

In a statement published online, the United Nations' Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it was "deeply saddened" by the deadly incident. The agency said it would be supporting the woman's family as an investigation into the cause of the incident continues.

The Kara Tepe camp is operated by both the Municipality of Mytilene with UNHCR and funding from the European Commission.

Greece has repeatedly appealed to the European Union to provide more funding and support to help the country cope with its ongoing migration crisis.

While Kara Tepe is tightly managed and maintains a relatively low population, the nearby Moria refugee camp has struggled with severe overcrowding and inadequate conditions for years. Recently, riots broke out across the camp after a fire there also claimed the life of an Afghan woman.

As Newsweek reported in the wake of the blaze, the death came as the camp struggled to accommodate as many as 13,000 people at a site built for a maximum of 3,000.

"When you put 13,000 people in a space designed for 3,000, just the fact that people are sleeping on top of each other creates a lot of tension," Médecins Sans Frontières Head of Mission in Greece Tommaso Santo said at the time.

Kara Tepe
The Kara Tepe refugee camp, pictured in October, 2018, houses vulnerable families seeking refuge in Greece. Chantal Da Silva

With camps across Greek islands neighboring Turkey suffering from severe overcrowding, many advocacy groups and local governments have called for a change in the country's handling of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Under Greece's new government, change does appear to be on the horizon, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowing to shut down the island camps and replace them with closed facilities, while also working to send as many as 20,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland.

However, the plan has been condemned by humanitarian groups, with MSF's Santo previously telling Newsweek that "while change is urgently needed, we want to be clear that this change should be aimed at increasing the humanitarian assistance and protection of people, not at restricting this access or detaining people for the mere fact of seeking safety."

"This announcement and…recent changes in the Greek law are certainly not changes that are moving in the right direction," he said.