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Greece Seeks EU Help to Run Migrant Camps after Major Fire

September 15, 2020

KARA TEPE, Greece  — Greece has called on the European Union to jointly run new refugee camps being built on its eastern islands as part of a planned overhaul of the country's migration policy.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the call Tuesday at a meeting in Athens with European Council President Charles Michel as Greece struggles with the aftermath of fires on the island of Lesbos last week that gutted a large refugee camp and left thousands without shelter.

Just 800 homeless migrants have been moved so far to a site being built by the Greek army, and only tents are available. "We have already stared the new facility, and that is where the flags of Greece and the European Union must fly," Mitsotakis said. "In practice, there must be shared responsibility not only for construction but also for the operation of the camp." 

Some 12,000 people fled the fires at Moria camp last week. The government says the fires were set deliberately by migrants protesting pandemic-related restrictions, and authorities Tuesday announced the arrested of five suspects over their alleged involvement. Most of the displaced migrants remain homeless and many are refusing to leave a nearby road where they have camped out for almost a week, fearing they could be detained at the tent city for months. 

Most of the 5,000 available places at the temporary army-built site remain empty, officials said. 

Greece's migration minister said the government will use force, if necessary, to move homeless migrants to the new tent city. 

Notis Mitarachi said efforts to relocate migrants on a voluntary basis, with the help of government translators and pamphlets being distributed to asylum-seekers, were continuing. 

But speaking to Greek broadcaster Mega TV, he added: "If this is not possible through discussion, then the police will have to be used. It is their obligation to be moved to the new site." 

Mitarachi said it would take at least six months to build a permanent structure to replace the Moria camp, acknowledging that migrants and refugees would spend the winter in tents. 

New detention sites for asylum seekers are also planned on four other Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, replacing overcrowded open facilities. European Council President Michel is due to visit Lesbos later Tuesday. The European Commission is expected to present proposals later this month for the overhaul of the union's migration policy that are expected to include tougher border policing and renewed effort to resettle migrants granted asylum across EU member states.

By PETROS GIANNAKOURIS and DEREK GATOPOULOS Associated Press

___ Gatopoulos reported from Athens 

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