Greek police transfer homeless migrants to new Lesbos camp

Lesbos Island (Greece) (AFP) –


Police on the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday launched an operation to rehouse thousands of migrants who have been sleeping rough after their camp was destroyed by fire, an AFP journalist said.

At around 7am (0400 GMT), officers were waking the migrants in their tents to take them to the temporary centre that was hastily set up after Europe's largest camp for asylum seekers at Moria burned down last week.

Quietly, with only the sounds of children crying, and under an already hot sun the migrants folded their blankets, picked up bags containing whatever belongings they had saved from the fire and dismantled their tents.

Women and children with bundles on their backs were seen gathering by a barricade police had set up on the road.

"The aim is to safeguard public health," police spokesman Theodoros Chronopoulos told AFP, confirming that "an operation is under way" which "responds to humanitarian aims."

He said around 70 women police officers took part. Videos posted by police show women officers in white uniforms talking to migrant families.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which opened an emergency clinic in the area, was barred from accessing their facility during the night, as rumours of the police operation spread, the group said early Thursday.

"A police operation is underway to take refugees to the new camp. This should not prevent medical aid," MSF complained on Twitter.

Over 12,000 people including entire families with elderly and newborns were left homeless when fire tore through the overcrowded and unsanitary Moria camp -- built five years ago at the height of Europe's migrant crisis -- on the night of September 8.

Six young Afghans have been arrested in connection with the incident, with four of them brought before a Lesbos magistrate on Wednesday.

Thousands of the migrants have been sleeping under tarpaulins or tents at roadsides and in the car parks of closed supermarkets since the blaze.

- Asylum requests -

Late Wednesday, around 1,000 tents, each able to accomodate between eight and 10 people, had been erected at the new site near Moria.

Medical tents were to be set up, and two quarantine zones were planned for the several dozen people who have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Greek migration ministry said Tuesday that around 1,200 had entered the new camp.

Aid groups said a few hundred more arrived on Wednesday, forced by exhaustion after sleeping rough under a hot sun for a week.

But many have refused to go, fearing they would be left waiting for months to have their requests for asylum processed and transferred to the Greek mainland or to another European country.

The UN refugee agency on Wednesday urged Greece to speed up asylum processes on Lesbos.

"The idea is not that people remain for ever on the island of Lesbos, but that processes are accelerated so that people can leave gradually and in an orderly way" to the capital Athens or elsewhere on the mainland, the UN agency's chief in Greece Philippe Leclerc told reporters.