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Thousands still homeless after Greek refugee camp fire

Thousands of refugees have spent a fourth night sleeping in the open on the Greek island of Lesbos. It comes after successive fires destroyed a notoriously overcrowded refugee camp during a coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.

Officials claim some camp residents deliberately started the blazes on 8-9 September. They were angry over authorities imposing quarantine and isolation orders after 35 people in the Moria camp tested positive for coronavirus.

With the camp gutted, the morning of Saturday 12 September found men, women and children sleeping under improvised shelters made of reed stalks, blankets and salvaged tents.

A fire on Lesbos
A migrant walks near a small fire in a field near Mytilene town (AP)

Peaceful protest

Thousands gathered for a protest demanding to be allowed to leave the island. They gathered on a road blocked by police buses.

The demonstration was loud but peaceful, with mainly children and women at the front.

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Riot police observed nearby as protesters chanted slogans and held up improvised banners made of pieces of cardboard or sheets. “We need peace & freedom. Moria kills all lives,” read one.

Migrant protests
Police block the road as refugees protest near Mytilene town on Lesbos (AP)

A few of the demonstrators wore masks in the tightly packed crowd of people who had recently lived in the camp. The camp had dozens of confirmed coronavirus cases before it burned down.

Stuck

Leaving the island would require a bending of European Union rules, under which refugees reaching Greece’s islands from Turkey must stay there until Greece either formally grants them refugee status or deports them back to Turkey.

The Moria camp was built to house around 2,750 people. But it was so overcrowded that this week’s fires left more than 12,000 in need of emergency shelter on Lesbos.

Greek authorities put Moria under a virus lockdown until mid-September after identifying the first case confirmed there.

Greece Migrant Camp Blaze
Refugees preparing food on the roadside (AP)

Emergency medical assistance

On Friday, 200,000 rapid-detection kits for the virus were flown to the island. They’re for an extensive testing drive that would include asylum-seekers and islanders.

The World Health Organisation said Greece had asked for the deployment of an emergency medical team. Two such teams, one from Belgium and one from Norway, are expected to arrive on 12 and 14 September.

Meanwhile, authorities aren’t allowing the camp’s residents — except for 406 unaccompanied teenagers and children — to leave the island.

The unaccompanied minors were flown to the Greek mainland on Wednesday 9 September. And several European countries have said they will take some of them in.

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