Children sleeping among the graves as Moria devastation mounts on Lesbos
EUROPE

Children sleeping among the graves as Moria devastation mounts on Lesbos

News Service Reuters

Greece began setting up tents on Friday for thousands of increasingly desperate migrants left without shelter on the island of Lesbos after a fire destroyed Greece's biggest refugee camp on Wednesday.

With more than 12,000 former occupants of the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp now camping out in fields and along roadsides without food or water and threatened by a possible spread of coronavirus infections, the need for a solution has become increasingly urgent.

But the Greek government has been forced to tread warily due to growing anger among residents of an island whose location a few miles (km) off the Turkish coast has kept them on the frontline of Europe's migrant crisis for years.

"Moria is a monstrosity," Dimitris Koursoubas, a senior official responsible for migration in the northern Aegean islands, told Reuters, saying the fire which destroyed the camp presented a "tragic opportunity" to find a new solution.

"We want all the migrants out, for national reasons. Moria is over," he said.

The migrants themselves, most from Syria or Afghanistan, have been desperate to get off the island and a group of several hundred gathered a few miles outside the main port of Mytilene, near a supermarket where helicopters landed tents and supplies.

Shouting "Freedom!" and "No police!" and waving handmade signs reading "No new camp", they faced off against police who blocked them going down the road into the town.

Greek officials say they believe the fire in the Moria centre was deliberately lit by migrants reacting to quarantine measures after COVID-19 was detected in the camp last week.

But the emergency has once again highlighted Europe's patchy response to a multi-year crisis that has seen more than a million migrants reach its shores, often on board flimsy vessels and fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and beyond.

"SLEEPING AMONG THE GRAVES"

"The clock has run out on how long Europe can be without a migration policy. Now is the time to change this," Margaritis Schinas, the European commissioner responsible for migration and asylum policy, said at a press conference in Brussels.

Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy where most migrant boats arrive, have long demanded that other EU states take in more asylum seekers but Hungary and Poland, among others, have refused to share the burden.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, speaking alongide Schinas, said France and Germany had agreed to take in most of around 400 minors who have been moved from Lesbos to the Greek mainland.

But there has been no wider agreement on resettlement and Greek authorities have refused any mass transfers off Lesbos.

"Life meets death here," said Eftychia Sougioultzi, a 64 year-old local woman, visiting a cemetery where her daughter is buried. "Yesterday I saw children sobbing, sleeping among the graves."

For the migrants themselves, the outlook is bleak.

"Moria finished," said Zohra, a 25-year-old Afghan woman. "We are two days on the road, no water, no food, very cold at night."

The World Health Organisation said it was sending two emergency medical teams. Officials also said 200,000 rapid COVID-19 tests had been brought to the island to handle a possible upsurge in cases.

In the chaos following Wednesday's fires, authorities have lost track of at least 35 people who had tested positive.

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