Despairing migrants left without shelter on the island of Lesbos after a fire destroyed Greece’s biggest refugee camp faced off against police on Friday as authorities began setting up hundreds of tents to try to contain the crisis, Reuters reported.
With more than 12,000 former occupants of the overcrowded Moria reception centre now camping out in fields and along roadsides without food or water and threatened by a possible spread of coronavirus infections, the need for a solution has become increasingly urgent.
But the Greek government has been forced to tread warily due to growing anger among residents of an island whose location a few miles off the Turkish coast has kept them on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis for years.
“Moria is a monstrosity,” Dimitris Koursoubas, a senior official responsible for migration in the northern Aegean islands, said, saying the fire which destroyed the camp on Wednesday presented a “tragic opportunity” to find a solution.
“We want all the migrants out, for national reasons. Moria is over,” he said.
The migrants, most from Africa, Syria or Afghanistan, have been desperate to get off the island and a group of several hundred gathered a few miles outside the main port of Mytilene, near a supermarket where helicopters landed tents and supplies.
Shouting “Freedom!” and “No police!” and waving handmade signs reading “No new camp”, or “Please Help Us!” they faced off against police who blocked them going down the road into town.
Greek officials say they believe the fire in the Moria centre was lit deliberately by migrants reacting to quarantine measures after COVID-19 was detected in the camp last week.
The emergency has once again highlighted Europe’s patchy response to a multi-year crisis that has seen more than a million migrants reach its shores, often on board flimsy vessels and fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and beyond.