Tension, looming health crisis on Lesbos island after camp fire


Lesbos Island (Greece) (AFP)

Tension was simmering Saturday on Greece's Lesbos island as thousands of asylum seekers remained homeless four days after Europe's largest migrant camp was destroyed by fire.

Round-the-clock efforts to find temporary shelter for over 11,000 people including thousands of children were still inadequate, rights groups said as local authorities continued to oppose camp reconstruction plans.

"As thousands are now left sleeping rough in the hills around Moria or on the streets, tensions between local residents, asylum seekers, and police are increasing," Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Saturday.

The camp of Moria, which housed over 12,000 people in dismal sanitary conditions, burned down in successive fires on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Officials have blamed migrants for the fires, the first breaking out shortly after 35 people tested positive for coronavirus and were facing isolation measures.

"We are sleeping in the dirt or on the road under the open sky," a group of asylum seekers from the former camp said on Facebook, noting that some people had even found shelter under the trees of the local Greek cemetery.

- 'Hotspot approach' -

"We have nothing to cover ourselves with, or even a jacket to put on to protect us from the night cold, and from the wind."

"We are fearful that since the 35 positive cases have still not been located, any people could carry and spread Covid-19 since these people are still among us," the Moria Corona Awareness Team said.

On Friday, army and fire service helicopters were used to bypass roadblocks set up with the encouragement of local authorities to prevent a new temporary camp from being set up near the ruins of Moria.

The local mayor has rejected the temporary camp initiative as "unrealistic".

"Any thought to rebuild this sort of thing should be forgotten," Mytilene Mayor Stratis Kytelis told Antenna TV on Friday.

"The island's society cannot take any more... for reasons of health, social cohesion, national security," Kytelis said.

The plight of the stranded families has prompted other European countries to offer to take in hundreds of asylum seekers, particularly unaccompanied youngsters.

Greece has long complained that, aside from providing funds, its EU partners have done too little to help.

"The fires highlight the failure of the European Union's 'hotspot approach' on (Greek) islands, which has led to the containment of thousands of people... with the aim of returning them to Turkey, from which they transited," HRW said.