LESBOS – Thousands of migrants were stranded without shelter on Lesbos on Thursday after fires razed their camp to the ground, and the government said it would take days to find housing for all of them.
Some who fled the fires on Tuesday and Wednesday night tested positive for COVID-19 after an outbreak of the disease in the camp, further complicating attempts to round up migrants and get them into alternative accommodation.
“Today we will undertake all necessary actions to house families and the vulnerable while food distribution continues,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.
Bracing for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases, authorities were sending 19,000 test kits to the island. Petsas added that a passenger ferry had docked at the island’s port of Mytilene to house families.
Petsas said Tuesday’s fire, which reduced the Moria camp holding some 12,500 people to a mass of smoldering steel and melted tent tarpaulin, was started by asylum seekers reacting to quarantine measures after COVID-19 infections were detected.
He did not provide evidence.
“Some do not respect the country hosting them. They take advantage of any excuse to set every solution on fire,” he said.
Earlier, Greek authorities had sent 406 unaccompanied children and teenagers from the camp – notorious for its poor living conditions – to the mainland on three chartered flights.
But thousands more people remained stuck in Lesbos with nowhere to sleep and little to eat.
Local attitudes to the migrants, on an island at the forefront of the European migrant crisis in 2015-2016, have turned largely hostile in recent years as the number of people in the camp gradually rose.
Families slept on roadsides and in fields across the island overnight after a second fire broke out at the camp late on Wednesday, destroying what was left from the first inferno.
On a parking lot outside a supermarket, more than 1,000 migrants including families with small children waited in the sunshine for bottled water and food to be distributed.
SPARE A BISCUIT?
The 406 unaccompanied minors have been taken to safe facilities in northern Greece where they will stay temporarily, while the program of their relocation to other EU countries is ongoing.
An eight-year-old Congolese girl Valencia, who was barefoot, gestured to a Reuters reporter that she was hungry and asked for a biscuit.
“Our home burned, my shoes burned, we don’t have food, no water,” she said.
Both she and her mother Natzy Malala, 30, who has a newborn infant, slept on the side of the road.
“There is no food, no milk for the baby,” Natzy Malala said.
While the migration ministry said it would take “all necessary steps” to ensure that vulnerable groups and families had shelter, but these were expected to be met with stiff resistance from local residents.
Authorities were already at loggerheads with Lesbos residents over plans to replace Moria with a closed reception center, which the residents fear would mean thousands of asylum seekers remaining their permanently.
Municipalities were at odds over the handling of the situation, said Costas Moutzouris, governor of the Northern Aegean.
“There is no decision. It’s up in the air,” he told Reuters.
Another government official who declined to be named said that sheltering migrants on boats was not a safe solution and was sending the wrong message to migrants who would want to leave Lesbos.