Greece seeks shelter for thousands after refugee camp fire

MYTILENE, Greece — Authorities on Friday sought to shelter thousands of refugees and migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos after fires destroyed the squalid and overcrowded Moria camp that for years symbolized Europe’s biggest migration policy failings.

Soldiers set up new tents on a site near Moria’s blackened remnants. The structures were flown in by military helicopters to forestall protests by Lesbos’ permanent residents angry at their island’s protracted use as a holding center for thousands arriving from nearby Turkey.

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Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said authorities have “moved very fast” to construct a temporary facility.

Thousands of people who fled the camp prepared to sleep rough for a third night, under makeshift shelters beside the road to the island capital of Mytilene, in parking lots, fields and even a cemetery.

Greek officials said the fires on Tuesday and Wednesday were deliberately set by a tiny number of camp residents angered by isolation orders issued to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after 35 residents were found to have been infected.

Tents for about 3,000 people — out of Moria’s 12,500 — are expected to be erected at the new Kara Tepe site, near Mytilene, while the first migrants and refugees were expected to move in Saturday.

Several hundred people from vulnerable groups were moved to rented accommodation, although a ferry sent to the other side of the island Thursday to temporarily house up to 1,000 people as a floating hotel remained inexplicably empty.

Earlier, thousands of the migrants and refugees held a brief protest demanding to be allowed to leave Lesbos.

That would require severe bending of European Union rules, under which asylum-seekers reaching Greece’s islands from Turkey must stay there until they are either granted refugee status or deported back to Turkey.

The protesters sang, danced, clapped and banged plastic water bottles together in a boisterous but peaceful demonstration. Some held signs requesting help from Germany, a favored destination for many who arrive in Greece.

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Authorities have said that none of the camp’s residents — except for 406 unaccompanied teenagers and children — would be allowed to leave the island. The unaccompanied minors were flown to the Greek mainland on Wednesday.

Moria had been under a lockdown until mid-September after the first virus case was identified in a Somali man who had been granted asylum and left for Athens but later returned to the camp.

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