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Greek Minister: 5,000 Move into New Refugee Camp on Lesbos

September 17, 2020

KARA TEPE, Greece — More than 5,000 asylum seekers left homeless after Greece's notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on the island of Lesbos burnt down have now been housed in a new facility, the country's migration minister said Thursday afternoon.

Speaking on the island, Notis Mitarachi said rapid coronavirus tests found 135 of the former residents of Moria positive for the coronavirus, and these people were being kept "in special areas where they receive the appropriate medical conditions."

More than 12,000 people had been sleeping rough by a roadside since the squalid Moria camp burnt down last week. Authorities said the fires were set deliberately by a small group of migrants angered by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions imposed after an outbreak in the camp. Six Afghans, including two minors, have been arrested on suspicion of arson. 

Police launched an operation Thursday morning to persuade people to move from the roadside into the new camp in the island's Kara Tepe area. The operation included 70 female police officers and no violence was reported.

"As long as it is peaceful, we believe it is a good move," said Astrid Castelein, head of the U.N. Refugee Agency's office on Lesbos. "Here on the street it is a risk for security, for public health, and it's not dignity which we need for everyone." 

The new site consists of large family tents erected in an old army firing range by the sea. By late Wednesday, it had a capacity of around 8,000 people, according to the UNHCR.

New arrivals are tested for COVID-19, registered and assigned a tent. 

"This is an operation for the protection of public health and with a clear humanitarian mission," the police said in a statement. 

Moria had a capacity of just over 2,700 people, but more than 12,500 had been living in and around it when it burned down. The camp was held up by critics as a symbol of Europe's failed migration policies. 

"It is critical that Europe demonstrates tangible solidarity to the pressure that the Greek islands have had over the last few years," said Mitarachi, the migration minister.

The European Union is due to issue proposals to overhaul the bloc's migration policy next week in an effort to end years of division among member states. As a frontier state, Greece is pressing for increased participation by other EU members in relocation schemes — unpopular with many central and East European countries — but has also suggested that alternative obligations may be assigned to countries wishing to opt out of relocation. 

Speaking at a debate in the European Parliament on the situation in Greece, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said that "there can be no more Morias," and that it was time for a fresh start on migration.

Several EU members have offered to take in refugees from Greece, led by Germany which says it will take in 1,553 refugees from Greek island camps who have had their asylum applications approved. ___

Becatoros reported from Athens. Geir Moulson in Berlin, Raf Casert and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed. ___

By VANGELIS PAPANTONIS and ELENA BECATOROS undefined

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