Fire in refugee camp on Greek island kills a woman

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A fire that broke out early Thursday in a housing unit at a refugee camp on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos has left one woman dead, Greek authorities said, as the country’s prime minister met with top European officials to discuss issues related to migration and refugees.

The fire department said the small fire broke out before dawn in a container housing a family of five in the Kara Tepe camp. Eight firefighters with two vehicles responded.

It was unclear what caused the fire.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said the woman who died was a 27-year-old Afghan mother of three young children, and that the fire started shortly before 2 a.m.

Other camp residents managed to evacuate the children, aged 5, 3 and an infant, unharmed. The children’s mother was found dead after the fire was extinguished, while their father suffered smoke inhalation.

The father and three children “are receiving support from UNHCR and partners,” the agency said.

Kara Tepe houses mainly families and other refugees considered vulnerable. Hundreds of people arrive on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast each week, resulting in overcrowded camps on the islands.

Under the terms of a 2016 deal between the European Union and Turkey designed to stem the flow of asylum seekers into Europe, those arriving on eastern Aegean islands from Turkey are held there pending deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. A massive backlog in asylum cases combined with continued arrivals has led to dramatic overcrowding in island refugee camps, with some currently holding between five and 11 times their intended capacity.

The government has said it plans to move 20,000 asylum seekers from the islands to other facilities on the mainland by the end of the year.

In Athens, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met Thursday with two members of the European Union’s executive Commission, Margaritis Schinas and Ylva Johansson, who were in Athens for meetings with government officials to discuss migration.

Mitsotakis said Greece relied on “European solidarity” to deal with the migration and refugee situation.

“We have this very difficult task of course to unblock the blocked situation and to find a common European policy for migration and asylum,” Johansson said during her meeting with Mitsotakis and Schinas before the three headed into broader talks with Greek officials.

“It’s a European problem, not only a problem for Greece.”

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