Category Archives: Southeast Europe – Greece (Balkan) 🇬🇷

Moria Inferno: Thousands of Greek Refugees move to new Lesbos camp.

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Some are reluctant to enter the new site, fearing poor conditions and worried their movement may be further limited.

Names marked with an asterisk* have been changed to protect identities.

Police on the Greek island of Lesbos have launched an operation to rehouse thousands of refugees and migrants who have been sleeping rough after their camp was destroyed by fire.

Officers on Thursday morning woke people in their tents to take them to a temporary centre that was hastily set up after Europe’s largest camp for asylum seekers at Moria burned down last week.

The new Kara Tepe camp, near the island’s main town Mytilene, was made on a former military firing range and is close to the remains of the Moria site.

But many have refused to go, fearing living conditions would be as bad or worse than at Moria, which was notoriously unsafe, and worried they would be left waiting for months to have their requests for asylum processed and transferred to the Greek mainland or another European country.

Riot police and police vans were parked on either side of a street where thousands who fled the Moria camp have been living.

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Quietly, with the sounds of children crying and under an already hot sun, people 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.

Some mothers pushed their babies in prams up the road as other refugees took shelter from the morning sun in the shade of a large building, or washed with water bottles on the roadside.

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

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

“A police operation is under way to take refugees to the new camp. This should not prevent medical aid,” MSF complained on Twitter.

More than 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 refugee crisis – on the night of September 8.

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

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

The atmosphere on Thursday morning was calm, with people exhausted from spending a week on the street. Families collected their belongings, some pushing them in large bins or supermarket trolleys, in preparation for the move.

At the start of the operation, single men were not allowed to enter the new camp.

Farhad*, is 20 and alone in Greece, having fled war in Afghanistan.

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Even if he was allowed in, he told Media he does not want to enter Kara Tepe.

“I’ve been in Moria for nine months and again, if we enter the camp, [maybe] it will be for a year, too. I’m losing my youth just waiting.”

Other families have accepted their new reality.

“We hear there is food and water there,” said Abdul*, who has five children.

His family is tired of living on the street waiting for help that never seems to arrive and believes there is no other option.

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

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

“We have seen a lot of people come in hazmat suits trying to talk to people, to convince them to go to the camps. People are moving. Not everyone is moving, but people are moving,”

“A lot of people we have been speaking to this morning still don’t want to go. They say they are hearing the situation is bad, they are are going to be stuck in there, there are calling it a jail.

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“Certainly the message from the authorities is that they have to move to the camp, and if they are not going to do so willingly … they will use the police to move people forcefully.”

The Greek migration ministry said on Tuesday that around 1,200 people 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.

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

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“The idea is not that people remain forever 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.

Meanwhile, anger is growing among local Lesbos residents, who complain overcrowding on the island is affecting its tourism possibilities.

“We have two human dramas here. Unfortunately, it is the drama of the migrants living here that is constantly talked about, and never the locals who have gone through a very hard time, since 2015, and are very frustrated. These people should be put in a controlled camp and far away from the local population.

Greece’s police minister Michalis Chrysochoidis this week said that half the refugees and migrants on Lesbos should be able to leave by Christmas and “the rest by Easter”.


#Newsworthy…

Moria inferno: Troubled Greece refugees gets aid.

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Chaos and confusion plague thousands of people made shelterless after a fire struck Europe’s largest refugee camp.

Days after a fire reduced Europe’s largest refugee camp to embers, fires are still breaking out around the charred remains of Moria.

Fire engines race back and forth over the Greek hillsides to extinguish the new fires, weaving between families languishing on the roadsides and in olive groves.

The air smells of burned plastic and smoke. The sounds of people shouting and children crying come from all sides.

Thousands are trapped between the smouldering camp they cannot return to and lines of police who block them from entering the nearby city of Mytilene.

Confusion prevails; people wonder why the fire started, how long they will have to remain by the side of the road, and what will happen next.

“We are here and we don’t know anything,” Ahmad Sadiya, a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan, told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media. “We just have to wait here for some people to help us.”

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Sadiya was sleeping in a container with his wife and three small children when the fire broke out in the early hours of Wednesday.

Asylum seekers have been stranded on the street between the former Moria camp and Mytilene city, prevented from leaving by a line of police [Moira Lavelle/Al Jazeera] [Daylife]

They heard people shouting about a fire, but at first, when they tried to flee, they were stopped by police throwing tear gas. As the flames grew they were able to run for the streets.

he Greek government maintains that the fire was started by asylum seekers as a response to continuing coronavirus lockdowns and tests.

Moria refugee camp had been under an extended lockdown since March. Last week, it was put in an even stricter lockdown after 35 residents tested positive for COVID-19.

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In a statement on Wednesday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “I recognise the difficult conditions. However, nothing can become an alibi for violent reactions to health checks. And, much more, for riots of this magnitude.”

Pamela Kanda, 28, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, cannot comprehend why she is stuck on the road between the camp and the city, and why she is not permitted to leave to get food or nappies for her two-year-old child.

“They don’t want anybody to pass,” she said. “They don’t tell us anything.”

Her phone has run out of battery, she has nowhere to charge it, and so she has no source of information from the outside world. She does not know what will happen next.

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Nearby in the same olive grove, 16-year-old Tamadur Al Bario’s family also lacks access to food and water. She picks up a baby cousin to show bug bites on the nape of her neck, and a thick white scar from a bomb in Syria. They are running out of formula.

“Where are the organisations to help? No food, nothing? Why?” she asks. “Nobody came to help. We will die, we will stay in the road, for them it’s no problem.”

Amid the heat and hunger, concerns about the coronavirus loom large.

Of the 35 Moria camp residents who were diagnosed with the illness, only eight have been located and quarantined.

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Here, people are unable to socially distance, and have no access to running water or sanitary products.

Refugees and migrants camp on a road following the fire at the Moria camp, a sprawling, overcrowded site designed for 3,000 people where 13,000 refugees had lived [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

So far, few viable solutions have been proposed for the 13,000 residents of the former Moria.

Notis Mitarakis, the migration minister, said some 3,500 asylum seekers will be accommodated in a commercial passenger ship and two naval barges, and the rest will be provided with tents in different areas on the island.

By Friday afternoon, people were moved from the road beside the former camp to an area beside a field where new tents were being set up.

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Unsure where they might be sent next, others who were asked to move to the tent area refused to leave crowds on the roadside.

In the long-term, Mitarakis has remained firm that the government will proceed with the planned construction of a closed detention centre on the island – a move residents and aid organisations have protested against for months.

Ahmed Sadiya said at first, clashes between refugees and police prevented some from fleeing the fire [Moira Lavelle/Al Jazeera]

“We really starkly condemn any move to this kind of closed setting,” Christina Psarra, the general director of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) in Greece, told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.

“We reached this point because of this approach of closing the camp. They cannot build from the ashes, the same thing that caused so much pain.”

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Many refugees in Lesbos had never heard of the plan to build a closed camp.

Refugees and migrants sleep on a road, while one sits up, following a fire at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 10, 2020 [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

“I don’t know what the government will decide,” said Mohammad Zaher, 42, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan.

“Will they make Moria again or no? Where will we be?”

Zaher has been without food and water for more than two days.

But for now, the worries about his future concern him more than hunger: “Food is not important for us, the future is important for us,” he said, gesturing to his son beside him. “The children’s future is important for us.”


#Newsworthy…

Moria inferno: Thousands of refugees in Greece left with no shelter, food.

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People who fled Greece’s largest camp sleep in supermarket parking lots and on roadsides, many without food and water.

Thousands of refugees slept rough on the Greek island of Lesbos for a second night after a fire razed the country’s largest camp to the ground, sending crowds fleeing but with nowhere to go.

Families slept on roadsides, in supermarket parking lots and in fields across the island, which was at the forefront of the European migrant crisis in 2015-2016.

There had been about 13,000 people in the camp.

Tuesday night’s inferno at Moria sent thousands rushing to save their lives, reducing the camp – notorious for its poor living conditions – to a mass of smouldering steel and melted tent tarpaulin.

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A second fire broke out on Wednesday night, destroying what little was left.

Desperate families, many with young children, spent Wednesday night in the open, some without tents or basic bedding. Some of the homeless trekked to the nearest villages for water and other supplies.

Refugees and migrants find shelter in the woods following the fire at the Moria camp [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Police reinforcements were brought in to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching the island’s main town of Mytilene, confining them to fields and roadsides.

Eight-year-old Congolese girl Valencia, who was barefoot, gestured to a Reuters reporter that she was hungry and asked for a biscuit. “Our home burned, my shoes burned, we don’t have food, no water.”

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Both she and her mother Natzy Malala, 30, who has a newborn, slept on the side of the road.

“There is no food, no milk for the baby,” Natzy Malala said.

Officials have declared a four-month emergency on Lesbos and flown in additional riot police.

The migration ministry said it would take “all necessary steps” to ensure that vulnerable groups and families had shelter, but these were expected to be met with stiff resistance from locals.

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Authorities were already at loggerheads with locals over plans to replace Moria with a closed reception centre, which Lesbos residents fear would mean thousands of asylum seekers remaining permanently.

Refugees sleep on the ground as they spend the night on a road near Mytilene after a fire destroyed Greece’s largest Moria refugee camp [Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP]

Municipalities were at odds over the handling of the situation, said Costas Moutzouris, governor of the Northern Aegean. “There is no decision. It’s up in the air,” he told Reuters.

The migration ministry said a ferry had been sent to accommodate hundreds of people ahead of the expected arrival of European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas to inspect conditions on the island.

Reporting from Lesbos, NRM said the situation was dire for the government.

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“It is hard to see how the government is going to settle so many thousands of [refugees] who have been left shelterless and homeless.

“We are told that three ships are under way to house thousands of the most vulnerable people with small children, but that will probably still leave some thousands uncared. There is a huge problem because the municipality doesn’t have the infrastructure to provide for them.”

A government official who declined to be named said that sheltering refugees and migrants on boats was not a safe solution and was sending the wrong message to migrants who would want to leave Lesbos.

People sleep on the road near the Moria refugee camp on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece [Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press]

The fire brought fresh tragedy to the refugees who had been living in Moria. The camp was under quarantine restrictions due to an outbreak of COVID-19 last week.

Authorities are investigating whether Tuesday night’s fires were started deliberately after COVID-19 tests led to the isolation of 35 refugees


#Newsworthy…

Moria Inferno: Many flee refugee camp in Greece.

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At least 28 firefighters and eight engines have been sent to tackle the fires, but immediate cause remains unclear.

Fires were burning both inside and outside the overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in the early hours of Wednesday, forcing hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers to flee, according to the fire service.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear, but Reuters witnesses said people were seen leaving the camp, carrying their luggage in their hands, and police said they were being taken to safety.

Nearly the entire camp, the largest in Greece, was on fire, including in an olive grove outside the walls of the main compound where many people sleep in tents, according to a Media photographer.

At least 28 firemen with 9 engines, aided by volunteers, were battling the flames.

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Stand by Me Lesvos, a refugee support group, said on Twitter it had received reports that some of the island’s Greek residents prevented fleeing asylum seekers from heading into a nearby village.

“The whole camp is on fire. Everything is burning. People are escaping. Their homes in Moria are gone,” the organisation said.

The camp is home to some 13,000 people – more than four times its stated capacity. Aid groups have criticised its cramped and unsanitary living conditions, which also make social distancing and basic hygiene measures impossible to implement.

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Greek news agency ANA said the fires started after a revolt by people who were to be placed in isolation after testing positive for coronavirus or coming into close contact with an infected patient.

Firefighters said earlier there were “scattered fires” around and inside the camp.

The camp has seen a spike in coronavirus infections since reporting its first case last Wednesday, when it was placed in lockdown, with 35 confirmed cases so far.

Lesbos, which lies just off the Turkish coast, was on the front line of a large movement of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe five years ago. Wildfires fanned by strong winds were also burning in two other areas of the island


#Newsworthy…