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Lesbos on the edge while locals and migrants live in fear

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Lesbos Island (Greece) (AFP)

On the Greek island of Lesbos, locals and asylum seekers spoke of their mutual fears as the irritation and exhaustion decided Monday after the destruction of the Moria migrant camp.

Families, children, young people and pregnant women have been left wandering aimlessly since a blaze broke out in the camp on the night of September 8-9, forcing its 12,000 residents to sleep soundly in abandoned buildings, by the roadside and even on the roof.

Authorities are setting up a new camp with white tents in a hurry near the port-eastern village of Panagiouda, but many refuse to go there, fearing they will simply be forgotten there, as they were in Moria, the largest migrant camp in Europe.

And nearby residents look at it with a wary eye, urging Europe to lend a helping hand.

“We are afraid. 90 percent of the people here are against the new camp and we all want them to leave the island,” said Savvas Afentoulis, 70, sitting in a cafe in Panagiouda.

“Greece can not just handle the situation, the EU must find a solution.

“They all came here, in Greece, but other countries have to help and get a number of them.”

Afentoulis was quick to point out that this was not always the case in Lesbos, the main port of entry for arrivals in the EU member state Greece due to its proximity to Turkey.

At the height of the migrant crisis that began in 2015, Lesbos saw hundreds of thousands of people arrive, many of them Syrians fleeing the war, and residents had joined in solidarity to help them.

“But after, when Moria was fed up with people, they started stealing our sheep and doing damage,” he said.

Not far away, four young Somalis dreaming of going to France or Germany hope to be allowed into the new camp. They are scared too.

“If we go there we get killed,” says Ahmed, 18, pointing the way to where thousands of refugees are sleeping soundly.

“If we go there, we get killed,” he says again, this time pointing to the nearby village and simulating his throat being cut by hand.

“Here, for sure.”

But they are not sure if they will be allowed as the new camp gives priority to families.

As they speak, three people, including a pregnant woman, enter the site where about 500 asylum seekers have been housed since Sunday evening.

– ‘Tension and anxiety’ –

For some migrants, however, the road is more attractive than the camp itself, which residents will not be able to leave as they wish due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Greek Minister of Migration, about 200 migrants may be polluted.

Several European countries have signed a scheme to host minors unaccompanied by the devastated Moria camp.

But that’s about 400 people, a drop in the ocean.

Germany said Monday it was considering receiving more migrants, possibly families with children.

In Lesbos meanwhile, incidents between migrants and locals have been frequent on the island since last year.

“This situation, here, is a disaster for the local people,” Vassilis Kiosia said in Panagiouda.

The 35-year-old local who himself migrated from Albania said he understood the plight of asylum seekers but could not see a solution.

“There is no work,” he said.

Stratis Kytelis, the mayor of the capital Lesbos Mytilene, stressed that the Greek government knows that the local population is against keeping migrants there.

Moria herself was severely criticized by locals and rights organizations alike for lack of hygiene and overcrowding.

It is now gone, but “the tension and anxiety with all these people on the streets” continues, Kytelis said.

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