Greece’s alternate migration minister says the Aegean island of Lesbos is facing a public health emergency after fires this week devastated its vastly overcrowded Moria migrant camp, writes Helena Smith, the Guardian’s Athens correspondent.
Speaking on Skai TV on Saturday morning, Giorgos Koumoutsakos said the country was confronted by a triple challenge involving public health, public order and national security.
The politician expressed “certainty” that the blazes, which first broke out on Tuesday, were the result of arson although, as yet, no one has been arrested and no concrete evidence offered. The inferno erupted a day after authorities announced further lockdown measures in the facility after dozens of camp residents testing positive for coronavirus.
Migrants sleep rough at a supermarket car park near Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images
Last night was the third that the asylum sleepers and migrants slept in the open after fires destroyed the large Moria camp. Photograph: Miloš Bičanski/Getty Images
About 200,000 Covid-19 rapid tests were flown into Lesbos on a specially chartered plane Friday amid fears of a surge in cases. None of the refugees diagnosed with the virus have yet been found, according to Greek officials. They confirmed the refugees remained among the estimated 12,500 men, women and children forced to sleep out in the open until authorities complete a temporary site on the island.
“There are now real fears among our island’s residents of the virus spreading,” local journalist Yannis Sarandis told the Guardian.
With the help of the military, 500 tents with the capacity to accommodate six people each, are in the process of being erected in an area more normally used as a firing range outside Mytilene, the island’s port capital. Authorities said refugees categorised as vulnerable will be hosted on a ferry boat and it is thought two naval ships will also be deployed to host people.
Asylum seekers protest against the new camp at Kara Tepe. Photograph: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA
A woman carries a child as refugees and migrants protest after the news about the creation of a new temporary camp. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
A migrant woman and children react after police fired tear gas during protests near Mytilene. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images
But tensions are running high, not least among asylum seekers, who gathered in protest for a second day chanting “we want freedom” and demanding to leave Lesbos. They demonstrated under the watchful eye of riot police who have set up roadblocks to prevent migrants and refugees attempting to get to Mytilene. The fire brigade rushed to extinguish fires that erupted in nearby fields almost at the same time.
Greece’s centre right government has made clear no one will be leaving the isle apart from 406 unaccompanied migrant children, also previous occupants of the camp, who were flown out of Lesbos to northern Greece earlier this week.