CHIOS, GREECE – A Greek court on Saturday sentenced four Afghan asylum seekers convicted of starting fires that burned down Europe’s largest migrant camp last year, each to ten years in prison.
The court in Chios found the accused guilty of arson while their lawyers denounced a ‘lack of sense of fairness’.
No one died in the fires.
The lawyers told AFP that they lodged an appeal immediately after the sentencing.
The young Afghans were brought to court in handcuffs and are expected to return to the Avlona prison outside Athens, where they were detained before the trial.
In March, two other Afghan youths were detained in the same facility for five years in connection with the case.
The Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesbos housed more than 10,000 people before being destroyed by two fires in September 2020.
Media were not allowed inside the courtroom at the end of the trial due to coronavirus measures.
Meanwhile, about 20 people, mainly members of foreign solidarity groups, gathered outside the court to demand that the accused be released.
Defense attorneys said the Afghans did not get a fair trial.
They said three had documents showing that they were under 18 at the time of the arrest, but that they were not recognized as a minor.
The prosecution is largely based on the testimony of another Afghan asylum seeker who identified the six as the perpetrators.
According to defense attorneys, the witness was not in court Friday and did not appear for trial in March because he could not be located.
The accused allege that they were targeted by the witness, an ethnic Pashtun, because all six are Hazara, a persecuted minority in Afghanistan.
Other witnesses to the prosecution were police officers, firefighters were called to the scene in September 2020 and staff of the European asylum service and non-governmental groups working in the camp.
The Moria camp, built in 2013 to accommodate up to 3,000 people, was overwhelmed in 2015 when a large wave of people began arriving on small boats from nearby Turkey.
The camp – home to asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia who want a better life in the European Union – quickly became a proverb for racketeering and violence.
The two fires broke out on September 8 and 9 as tension rose in the coronavirus pandemic.
Witnesses told AFP a dispute broke out because 200 migrants refused to be quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 or coming in contact with someone infected.
About 13,000 asylum seekers, including families with children, pregnant women and people with disabilities, had to sleep in the open for a week after the camp was destroyed.
Authorities have since built a temporary camp on Lesbos that houses about 6,000 people.
The EU has allocated $ 336 million to build a new permanent camp on Lesbos and for similar facilities on the islands of Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.
About 10,000 asylum seekers currently live on these five Aegean islands, the vast majority of whom hope to settle elsewhere in the EU.