Thousands still homeless after Greek refugee camp fire

A crying woman with a child in her arms Credit: AP/Press Association Images

Thousands of asylum seekers have spent a fourth night sleeping in the open on the Greek island of Lesbos, after successive fires destroyed a notoriously overcrowded migrant and refugee camp during a coronavirus lockdown.

Officials have said the blazes on Tuesday and Wednesday night were started deliberately by some camp residents who were angry over quarantine and isolation orders imposed after 35 people in the Moria camp tested positive for Covid-19.

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

A migrant walks near a small fire in a field near Mytilene town Credit: AP

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

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

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.

Police block the road as migrants protest near Mytilene town on Lesbos Credit: AP

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

Leaving the island would require a bending of European Union rules, under which asylum seekers reaching Greece’s islands from Turkey must stay there until they are either granted refugee status or deported back to Turkey.

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

The camp had long been held up by critics as a symbol of Europe’s failings in migration policy.

Moria was put under a virus lockdown until mid-September after the first case confirmed there was identified in a Somali man who had been granted asylum and left for Athens, but later returned to the camp.

Migrants preparing food on the roadside Credit: AP

On Friday, 200,000 rapid-detection kits for the virus were flown to the island 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 Saturday and Monday.

Authorities have said none of the camp’s residents — except for 406 unaccompanied teenagers and children — would be allowed to leave the island.

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