Refugees and migrants find shelter outside a gas station, following a fire at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 11, 2020 | Photo: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Refugees and migrants find shelter outside a gas station, following a fire at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 11, 2020 | Photo: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Three days after multiple fires destroyed most of the Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, thousands of the former residents are still sleeping out in the open. Although the authorities are starting to offer emergency accommodation for some, their efforts are being contested by some locals. Charities working with migrants in the area say provision is so far “ineffective.”

"Worrying reports reach us that speak of locals blocking the road near Panayiouda village," tweeted the pro-migrant charity Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) on Thursday, September 10. They said some of the locals had also "threatened and attacked volunteers who tried to help refugees."

The same charity reported that "48 hours following the destruction of Moria," the "authorities have yet to provide effective relief to the needs of thousands of refugees."

The charity has been documenting how the relief efforts have been progressing on the island. Earlier on Thursday they tweeted pictures of long queues of migrants waiting for food distribution lines. News agencies too provided pictures of men fighting as boxes of tomatoes and bottles of water were being given out to the many people who have had little or nothing to eat for several hours if not days. Refugees and migrants are handed tomatoes during a food distribution following a fire at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos Greece September 10 2020  Photo REUTERSAlkis KonstantinidisDesperate for shelter

RSA posted pictures of families and groups sleeping on the road, trying desperately to shelter under the chassis of lorries, or making makeshift sun shades from bits of old cardboard balanced on abandoned cars and rubbish bins.

The charity Alarm Phone publicized a demonstration on Wednesday in Greece’s northern city of Thessaloniki where people marched in solidartiy with "those living and fighting in the hell of Moria."

Some locals on the island of Lesbos however have been holding their own demonstrations. Trying to stop the government’s plans to rebuild parts of the camp or even provide emergency accommodation.

"Now is the time to shut down Moria for good," said local municipal leader Vangelis Violatzis to the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP). "We don't want another camp, and we will oppose any construction work. We’ve faced this situation for five years, it’s time for others to bear this burden," he added.

Roadblocks and opposition to rebuilding

Locals had already blocked government plans to try and build a new camp on Lesbos earlier this year. Although following the fire, Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis told the English language Greek newspaper Ekathimerini that Moria would be replaced by a "closed facility," although he did not elaborate on whom the new facility would house. Mitarakis confirmed to Greek broadcaster SKAI TV that the authorities were indeed "facing difficult from local authorities and local society [over where to] put tents to house these people."  Refugees and immigrants use reeds to build temporary camps and shelter against the heat  Photo Imago Images  ANE EditionA journalist for the German news magazine Der Spiegel who writes about Greece, Giorgos Christides, was part of a team reporting from the camp destroyed by fire. On Friday he tweeted that "tent setting preparations now under way for thousands of migrants left homeless after Moria conflagration in old shooting field near Panagiouda village." A helicopter is bringing the tents he added.

Christides also reported, earlier on Friday, that "heavy police reinforcements including 11 special vehicles" had just embarked in Mytilene port. He said they had come to transfer those left homeless after the fires in Moria. He said local officials had told him there was a "heavy police" presence and "roadblocks" all the way due to "fears of intense local reactions."

Situation made worse by pandemic

Since the fires broke out, the UN refugee agency UNHCR has continued to offer its support both to the Greek government and to those made homeless by the fires. On Thursday, Filippo Grandi, head of UNHCR said they were "dispatching relief items for 12,000 people and are ready to help with temporary shelter and longer term solutions."Charred remains of tents and melted living containers in the almost completely destroyed refugee camp Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos  Photo Imago  ANE EditionAt a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said that the agency was "shocked and saddened at events on Lesbos." She said the fires have left "11,500 asylum seekers, among them 2,200 women and 4,000 children, without adequate shelter."

Mantoo said the coronavirus pandemic was "adding to an already desperate situation." Greek authorities have sent 19,000 testing kits to the islands, according to Reuters, to test for the presence of the coronavirus among the residents of the former camp. Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told MEGA TV that the "health issues is very important to us, that’s why we need to have new temporary accommodation soon."

She said that UNHCR had advised all those who had been staying in the Moria Reception and Identification Center (RIC) to "restrict their movements until temporary solutions are found."

Longer term solutions needed

She asked all to "exercise restraint and refrain from actions or rhetoric that could heighten tensions," calling the situation "challenging and fluid."

The UNHCR said that over and above the issue of finding immediate shelter arrangements, longer term solutions also needed to be found. It said that "incidents at Moria demonstrate the long-standing need to take action to improve living conditions, alleviate overcrowding, improve security, infrastructure and access to services in all five reception centers on the Greek islands."

UNHCR said they continue to advocate for "more support from European countries and EU institutions," through things like relocationn schemes. It said it welcomed the initiative led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that ten EU countries were willing to take in some of the around 400 unaccompanied children who were flown to the Greek mainland on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.An arial image of the charred remains of the Moria camp after several fires destroyed most of the tented accommodation  Photo Imago Images  ANE EditionAccording to AFP, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said to a summit of Mediterranean leaders in Corsica on Wednesday that he thought Europe needed to "move from words of solidarity to a policy of acts of solidarity."

'#Evacuatenow'

Mitsotakis added that discussions about migration needed to become "much more concrete."

Several charities, including Lesvos solidarity-Pikpa have offered very concrete solutions, but not ones that most international governments want to hear, that is to "evacuate Moria now."

According to a retweet by Lesvos Solidarity, it’s something that other locals on Lesbos also want, but perhaps for different reasons. The Mayor of Mytilene also called for the "immediate departure from the island of those [from Moria] currently living on the streets."

 

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