Women demonstrate to voice their refusal to enter the new tent camp erected by Greek authorities after the Moria blaze


Lesbos migrants refuse to enter new tent settlement: 'We'd rather die here than go to another camp'

Mehdi Chebil
By Published on : 2020/09/14
Thousands of migrants have refused to enter the new tent settlement erected by Greek authorities after flames swept through the Moria camp, saying that they wanted to leave the island of Lesbos. As humanitarian conditions worsen, InfoMigrants talked to several asylum seekers who have only one demand: leave Lesbos.
Irene (right) and two other Congolese women hold signs of protest against the new camp
'We just want to leave Lesbos'
Irene (right) and two other Congolese women hold signs of protest against the new camp

"We don't go to the new camp", "We want to get out of hell", "Europe help us" or simply "Freedom". These handwritten slogans on cardboards were carried by hundreds of angry migrants who gathered on September 13 along a stretch of road in the Greek island of Lesbos. For their third consecutive day of protest, asylum seekers left homeless by a blaze at the overcrowded Moria camp decided that only women and children would march towards the police line located near the new tent settlement.

"We have been here for five days, without food or drink, sleeping on the pavement. Today only women protest because if men take part, police will send tear gas again" Irene, a Congolese woman, told InfoMigrants. She joined the protest with two friends who have been stuck in Lesbos for more than a year. Their only hope is that the destruction of the Moria camp will allow them to escape what they regard as an open-air prison. "There are other cities where we could go, we are ready to go anywhere in the European Union (EU)", says Chantal, another woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo.According to UNICEF there were more than 4 000 children  in the former Moria campTheir comments are echoed by a group of Afghan women, who have been in Moria for two years. "We want to leave, we want our children to go to school", says Sharifa, a 41-year-old woman wearing a green veil. "We would rather die here than to go to another camp", says another woman whose son is sick. "We want to go to any country that will be good for our children".

Hundreds of tents have been erected to host 3,000 migrants
A controversial new tent camp
Hundreds of tents have been erected to host 3,000 migrants

Greek authorities opened on Sunday a new camp made of hundreds of white tents at a former military shooting range four kilometres north of Mytilene, the island's port capital. The country's migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, came at the site on Sunday to brief reporters about his plans.

"It will take a few days but all the affected people will be moved into this temporary location behind me (...) We hope to have 5,000 beds ready by the end of the day," he said.

Construction work to erect the tent city could be heard on the nearby two-kilometre stretch of road where some of the 13,000 Moria migrants set up their own informal camp. Thousands of people, mostly from Afghanistan and Africa, have been sleeping rough there in makeshift shelters, supermarket parking lots, and olive groves since the blaze.Migrant women on Lesbos can't hold back their tears in the days following the fire that destroyed the Moria camp | Photo: Mehdi ChebilSome migrants like Martin, a young Cameroonian, spend their day under a large blanket used as a roof to shield them from the hot sun. He stays with a group of other Africans from Mali and Senegal. None of them is ready to enter the new camp for fear that they would never be able to leave again.

"What they are building is worse than the former camp (...) Most of our brothers who went in can't leave anymore", Martin told InfoMigrants. It reminds them of what they describe as the "prison within the Moria camp," where they were held for long period of time as their asylum requests were examined.

Between worsening humanitarian conditions in their informal camp and the risk of being locked again, they have chosen to stay away from the new tent settlement.

A cardboard with a text in French reading Save us Europe

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Text and all photos by Mehdi Chebil