Tim Stickings and Joe Davies, Daily Mail, September 11, 2020
Thousands of migrants left homeless on the Greek island of Lesbos after fires destroyed the overcrowded Moria camp protested against a new refugee camp being built on the island today.
Clapping and chanting songs, the protesters demanding to leave the island were boisterous but peaceful on the road leading to the island’s main town.
Some held up signs pleading for help from Germany, a favoured destination for many migrants and refugees who arrive in Greece from the nearby Turkish coast.
But the Greek government announced it would not be ‘blackmailed’ by the protesters and has no plans to relocate them away from the island.
Director of the Greek Migration Minister’s office, Konstantinos Kostakos, said around 1,000 migrants would be temporarily relocated onto a ship that has docked at Sigri, on the western side of the island.
He told CNN: ‘This is the first ship that has docked on the island. If there is a need we will consider bringing more.’
‘The Greek government will not be blackmailed. What happened – this ‘burn and go’ tactic – will not be tolerated.’
The refugees slept in car parks and petrol stations last night after Greece’s largest refugee camp burned down – with locals setting up roadblocks to stop a new one being built.
Hungry families slept on roadsides and in fields across the island after the Moria camp was reduced to a mass of smouldering steel and melted tent tarpaulin following successive blazes on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Some who fled the fires have tested positive for Covid-19 after an outbreak of the disease in the camp, further complicating attempts to round up migrants and get them into alternative accommodation.
Trucks were yesterday blocking access to the ruins of the camp, which housed 12,000 people in a space designed for only 2,800, to prevent a clean-up operation that would make way for new tents.
‘Now is the time to shut down Moria for good,’ said Vangelis Violatzis, a local municipal leader. ‘We don’t want another camp, and we will oppose any construction work. We’ve faced this situation for five years, it’s time for others to bear this burden.’
Greece’s government says the fire was started deliberately by asylum seekers protesting against quarantine measures at the camp, and is calling for Europe to share the burden of housing the migrants.
Angela Merkel’s interior minister Horst Seehofer said today that that 10 EU countries had agreed to take in some of the 406 unaccompanied children at the camp, with most of them set to go to France or Germany.
The fire late on Tuesday at Moria camp, Greece’s main migrant facility, sent thousands fleeing for safety into surrounding olive groves.
‘We’ve lost everything, we were abandoned, without food, water or medicine,’ said Fatma Al-Hani, a Syrian woman who barely had time to grab her identity papers before the flames engulfed the camp.
Gaelle Koukanee, a pregnant 21-year-old Congolese refugee, said the police had fired tear gas during the operation to extinguish the fire.
‘We have children, old people, disabled among us. Why this lack of humanity?’ she asked, seeking shelter from the beating sun under an olive tree.
While nobody was seriously hurt, the Tuesday blaze destroyed the official part of the camp, which housed 4,000 people, ministers said.
A second fire broke out late on Wednesday, destroying most of the remaining camp where another 8,000 lived in tents and makeshift shacks around the perimeter.
Another fire briefly broke out inside the camp on Thursday.
The minors in the Moria camp have been flown off Lesbos island and rehoused in ‘safe’ facilities in northern Greece, Athens said, adding that all had been tested for the coronavirus.
Migration minister Notis Mitarachi said that asylum seekers had started the fire because of quarantine measures imposed after 35 people at the camp tested positive for coronavirus.
Some who fled the fires on Tuesday and Wednesday night later tested positive for Covid-19, complicating attempts to round up migrants and get them into alternative accommodation.
Earlier this year, a plan to build a new camp on Lesbos stalled after locals clashed with riot police to prevent the construction.
‘We lacked toilets, showers and as women, we were afraid to walk at night. But now I’m even more worried about my future,’ Koukanee, the Congolese refugee, said.
Greek officials have declared a four-month emergency on the island and flew in extra riot police.
Germany and France on Thursday agreed on an initiative for EU states to share out some 400 minors from the camp, a source close to the talks told AFP.
‘As a preliminary step we are offering to Greece to accept refugees who are minors – other steps must follow,’ German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a panel discussion in Berlin.
The European Union must ‘assume more shared responsibility’ for migration policy, Merkel said.
Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wants that kind of sentiment transformed into action.
‘Europe must move from words of solidarity to a policy of acts of solidarity,’ he said at a summit of Mediterranean leaders in Corsica.
‘We have to put the migration crisis at the heart of our discussions and be much more concrete,’ he said.
Two Greek navy vessels would provide additional sleeping space, the migration ministry said.
The Netherlands offered to take in 100 of the migrants, half of them minors.
European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, who visited Lesbos on Thursday, said they had organised the transfer of 400 unaccompanied minors to the mainland with a view to their relocation in Europe.
‘And in the next few hours, there will be ships financed by the European Union to provide shelter to those vulnerable, more-in-need,’ he said.
Since becoming one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants and asylum seekers in 2015, Greece has built dozens of detention centres around the country.
But with other European nations accepting only a small trickle of refugees, thousands remain trapped in the Greek camps in usually dismal health conditions.
Greece’s conservative government has also toughened its asylum restrictions, slashing cash benefits and accommodation provisions to discourage further migration.
‘This is Europe?’ asked Fatma, clutching her two-year-old son.
‘I’ve had enough, I just want my baby to grow up in peace,’ she said, breaking down in tears.