Greece sees end to Lesbos migrant crisis within a week

AFP , Sunday 13 Sep 2020

Thousands of asylum seekers left homeless by fires at Europe's largest migrant camp

Moria Camp
A general view of the temporary camp for refugees and migrants near Mytilene town, on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece, Sunday Sept. 13, 2020. (AP)

Greece said Sunday it hoped thousands of asylum seekers left homeless by fires at Europe's largest migrant camp could be rehoused within a week to end a crisis that has seen clashes with police.

Asylum-seekers -- including the elderly and very young children -- have been sleeping rough on Lesbos island since Wednesday, when some 11,000 fled the overcrowded Moria camp after it was gutted in apparent arson attacks.

Clashes occurred on Saturday after hundreds of migrants staged a generally peaceful demonstration. Some young men started throwing stones at riot police who responded with tear gas.

Migrants demonstrated again peacefully on Sunday morning, an AFP reporter said.

Authorities have now set up a new 3,000-capacity camp at Kara Tepe, a few kilometres from Moria.

Migration Ministry officials said on Saturday that the plan was to eventually provide tents for all the homeless and accelerate the asylum procedure.

Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi told reporters Sunday that "in five days the operation will be concluded. Everybody will be inside the new camp".

But while around 300 migrants agreed to enter Kara Tepe on Saturday, many more remained on the road refusing to go in.

"In Moria we could come and go but here, (the new camp) will be like a prison", Zola, a Congolese mother of a five-month-old, told AFP.

Police said some Afghan migrants were trying to dissuade those who decided to enter the new camp to access to food and shelter.

AFP reporters said that police had barred them from approaching the new camp and the migrants camping on the road.

One Congolese migrant inside Kara Tepe also told AFP by text message that police would not allow them to leave.

A migration ministry spokesman said the most vulnerable asylum-seekers would be the first to be housed.

"We will give priority to families. It will be tents of six and the camp will be separated by ethnicities," Alexandros Ragavas told AFP.

'Explosive mix' 

Greek authorities are stepping up efforts to gather refugees in the camp in order to restore order on the island but also over fears the coronavirus could spread.

Just before the blazes that burned down the Moria camp, 35 people tested positive for Covid-19 and were facing isolation measures.

On Sunday, authorities said that seven migrants among those entering the new camp were positive for coronavirus.

"There might be 200 cases of coronavirus by now in those that fled Moria", Mitarachi said Sunday.

The combination of coronavirus with the migration issue makes for an "explosive mix" Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Saturday in a speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The plight of the stranded families has prompted other European countries to offer to take in hundreds of asylum-seekers, particularly unaccompanied youngsters.

But Greece has long complained that, aside from providing funds, its EU partners have done too little to help.

Past efforts to create a quota system, in which all European countries would have agreed to take in refugees from Greece, foundered on opposition from right-wing populist governments such as those in Poland and Hungary.

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