Refugees in Greece wary of entering new camp after Moria fire

Many fear conditions in temporary camp would be no better than Moria, which had drawn widespread humanitarian concern.

Greek authorities were still struggling to move thousands of refugees and migrants sleeping rough into a temporary camp, a week after the overcrowded Moria migrant camp burned down, while fears grew about a coronavirus outbreak on the island of Lesbos.

About 13,000 people, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, African countries and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation or access to food and water by the fire that tore through Moria, Greece’s biggest camp.

No one was killed in the fire, which broke out after quarantine measures were imposed following the discovery of COVID-19 cases on the site.

So far, only 1,200 people have moved into the temporary facility at Kara Tepe near the island’s port of Mytilene, which was ready to host at least 5,000.

“They are still reluctant,” said a police official on condition of anonymity. “Negotiations are ongoing.”

Authorities have distributed flyers and sent text messages to people, trying to convince them to move into the new tents, officials said.

But many refugees and migrants hope to be allowed to leave the island and believe that living conditions in the temporary camp would be no better than at Moria, which aid groups had called “appalling”.

People crossing the new facility entrance were being tested for COVID-19 and so far 35 were found positive. Residents worried that a coronavirus outbreak was looming with thousands of people sleeping rough and untested.

On Tuesday, six refugees were arrested in relation to the Moria blaze. Another blaze, which broke out overnight near another migrant camp on the island of Samos, was put under control and three people were arrested.

Greece’s conservative government, which took power last year, said it aims to replace open-air tent camps with formal migrant centres with temporary housing, where entry and exit would be controlled.

The fire has intensified calls for Europe to step in.

“European leaders should act quickly to bring the people stranded on Lesbos to safety,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“They also need to fundamentally rethink the failed and inhumane policies that led to the creation of a sprawling, unsanitary and dangerous refugee camp in an EU country, rather than just building a replica of the same thing.”

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