Greek police move homeless migrants to new Lesbos camp
A child looks on near a temporary camp in Lesbos as police began an operation to rehouse thousands of homeless migrants at a new site after their camp was destroyed by fire last week. AFP
Police on the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday launched an operation to rehouse thousands of asylum seekers sleeping rough for over a week after Europe's largest migrant camp was destroyed by fire.
Officers woke the migrants in their tents and sleeping bags on the roadsides to take them to the temporary centre that was hastily set up after Europe's largest camp for asylum seekers at Moria burned down last week.
Quietly, with only the sounds of children crying, and under a hot sun the migrants folded their blankets, picked up bags containing whatever belongings they had saved from the fire and dismantled their tents.
Women and children with bundles on their backs were seen gathering by a barricade police had set up on the road.
"It's awful, there's nothing in it, not enough food, toilets, no shower, there's not even a bed," Mustafa, a Sudanese asylum seeker, told AFP, after arriving at the temporary camp a few kilometres from the burnt out Moria camp.
A migration ministry source said some 2,800 people were inside the new camp. "The aim is to safeguard public health," police spokesman Theodoros Chronopoulos told AFP in Athens, confirming that "an operation is underway" which "responds to humanitarian aims."
He said around 70 women police officers took part in the operation. Videos posted by police showed women officers in white uniforms talking to migrant families.
Eight organisations providing legal assistance to migrants on Thursday noted that although asylum processes had begun anew, lawyers had not been given access to the new camp.
"Neither asylum seekers nor legal support organisations have until now received any information from Greek authorities about this facility," the organisations said in a statement, noting that claimants were being called to interviews via teleconference without legal representation.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which opened an emergency clinic in the area, said they were initially barred from accessing the facility during the night. They were later allowed to reopen.
Over 12,000 people including entire families with elderly and newborns were left homeless when fire broke out on the night of September 8 in the overcrowded and unsanitary Moria camp -- which came to prominence five years ago at the height of Europe's migrant crisis.
Six young Afghans have been arrested in connection with the incident, with four of them brought before a Lesbos magistrate on Wednesday.
Thousands of the migrants have been sleeping under tarpaulins or tents at roadsides and in the car parks of closed supermarkets since the blaze.
Late Wednesday, around 1,000 tents, each able to accomodate between eight and 10 people, had been erected at the new site near Moria.
Medical tents were to be set up, and two quarantine zones were planned for the several dozen people who have tested positive for coronavirus.
But many migrants have refused to enter the new camp, fearing they would be left waiting for months to have their requests for asylum processed so that they can be transferred to the Greek mainland or to another European country.
The UN refugee agency on Wednesday urged Greece to speed up asylum processes on Lesbos.
"The idea is not that people remain for ever on the island of Lesbos, but that processes are accelerated so that people can leave gradually and in an orderly way" to the capital Athens or elsewhere on the mainland, the UN agency's chief in Greece Philippe Leclerc told reporters.
Greece's police minister Michalis Chrysochoidis this week said that "half" the migrants on Lesbos should be able to leave "by Christmas" and "the rest by Easter".
Local communities on Thursday filed a legal complaint against the new camp, arguing that it was likely built without the proper environmental and archaeological permits.