Weary migrants wary of new migrant camp in Greece's Lesbos


Lesbos Island (Greece) (AFP)

Aided by a Farsi-speaking translator, Greek asylum staffer Michalis patiently explained to a group of Afghans that a new tent camp awaits them on the island of Lesbos.

Over 11,000 people -- including some 4,000 children -- have been sleeping rough since the notoriously overcrowded and unsanitary camp of Moria burned down this week.

"You cannot stay on the street. It's dangerous, and I remind you that coronavirus is everywhere," said Michalis, who declined to give his last name.

On Saturday afternoon, hesitant queues formed at the main entrance of the new camp of Kara Tepe, with some migrants agreeing to enter to secure shelter and food.

"We are four days on the road, without food and water. Since we are in Greece, we must obey the local authorities. We feel more safe in an organised place", Jacob Yong Deng, a 25-year-old from Northern Sudan told AFP.

Police said around 200 migrants had checked in while dozens, mostly families, were waiting outside for hygiene and safety checks.

Some Afghans were trying to dissuade them.

Anybody entering is also frisked for flammable materials and cooking gas cannisters, the police said.

- Migrants blamed for fires -

Officials have blamed migrants for the fires that gutted Moria, the first blaze breaking out shortly after 35 people faced isolation measures after testing positive for coronavirus.

Only eight of the 35 positive cases have been located.

On Saturday, a 20-day-old Afghan baby was found positive for coronavirus, state agency ANA said.

The baby and its mother, who also tested positive, were expected to be transported in Athens.

Most of the homeless are from Afghanistan, with smaller populations from Syria, DR Congo and Iran.

Lacking tents and even basic bedding, they have sought shelter wherever there is room -- on the side of the road, in parking lots and even in a cemetery.

"This camp will be different than Moria. We promise you the asylum procedure will be faster. You will be able to leave the island quickly," Michalis said.

"A temporary accommodation area with tents, running water, and supplies has been created for you and your children at the Kara Tepe area", the Greek Asylum Service tweeted on Saturday.

Aided by army bulldozers, work crews have worked round-the-clock to erect a makeshift camp for 3,000 people a few kilometres from the ruins of Moria.

Alexandros Ragavas, a spokesman for the migration ministry, said vulnerable asylum seekers will be the first to be housed.

"We will give priority to families. It will be tents of six and the camp will be separated by ethnicities. The process of moving people will start today," he told AFP.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the asylum seekers would be tested on entry, adding that a "special quarantine" area had been created near the camp.

- Migrants sceptical -

Many of the asylum-seekers are wary of being confined after months of coronavirus lockdown and fear a repeat of the ethnic gang crime and dismal sanitation that plagued Moria.

"In Moria we could come and go but here, (the camp) will be like a prison", Zola, a Congolese mother of a five-month-old told AFP.

Others said the location of the new camp on a hilltop overlooking the sea bodes ill for winter.

"It’s near the sea. How we will (manage in) winter, it will be so cold," said Omar, an 18-year-old from Burkina Faso.

"We will demonstrate again today. We don’t want to be in a closed camp where there is no security and no liberty," said 21-year-old Afghan Mahdi Ahmadi.

Hundreds of migrants earlier Saturday gathered near the site of the new camp, beating plastic bottles and shouting "No camp"at riot police.

Police fired tear gas after some of them began throwing stones.

Lesbos residents are equally opposed to having a new camp in their midst.

"It would be better not to have any new camp around here. Especially because of the coronavirus, we don’t want them next to our homes," said a man who lives near the entrance of the new camp.

"People are exhausted with this situation, both refugees and locals," the man, who identified himself as Kostas, said.

Humanitarian officials were also sceptical.

"Is this new camp going to be big enough and the conditions there decent? We don't know. The only solution is the evacuation of all the migrants to the mainland," Stephen Oberreit, the Doctors Without Borders medical charity's head of mission in Lesbos told AFP.

Migration ministry officials however said on Saturday that the plan was to have tents for everybody and accelerate the asylum procedure to six months.