ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece relocated hundreds of migrants to tents on the island of Lesbos on Monday after a fire last week destroyed a refugee center where they were staying.
More than 12,000 people, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria, were left homeless, without proper sanitation or access to food and water after the fire broke out in the overcrowded Moria migrant camp last Wednesday.
As Greek authorities began removing people from the shores of roads and open fields where they had slept, there were growing calls for other European countries to take in more migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, rejected calls by some local and regional politicians for more displaced people to be brought to Germany, saying aid efforts should be part of a broader package of measures.
It makes no sense to talk only about numbers, she said, adding that Germany could help by supporting a new European migrant reception center in Lesbos, echoing a proposal by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“I think it would be an important step towards a stronger European approach to immigration policy,” she said.
A broad European solution has proved elusive for years, despite repeated calls from countries such as Greece and Italy, where most migrant ships arrive crossing the Mediterranean, but the European Commission will introduce a new migration pact in 23 September.
In Lesbos, transfers to new tent camps were being held for fear of the spread of COVID-19, with at least 21 people being positive for the disease, as well as for fear of many people that the new camp would be no better than the scandalous conditions they endured in Moria.
Authorities have already relocated about 400 minors from Lesbos to Greek territory since the blaze for possible relocation to other European countries, but have refused to allow most to leave the island.
About 800 people had been relocated to shelters in tents by Monday evening, officials said.
We expect that in the next three to four days everyone (migrants in Lesbos) will be housed, government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.
Reporting by Vassilis Triandafyllou, Additional reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Written by Angeliki Koutantou and James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson
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