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Greece sets up tents in Lesbos after setting fire to Moria refugee camp

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The new camp stands on a converted military practice field. It consists of hundreds of white tents, arranged in rows in the dirt. People moving inside should be subjected to an immediate coronavirus blockade.

Your temporary accommodation center is ready. Kindly proceed immediately, Greek officials wrote in a letter distributed to migrants who have slept by the roadside or in supermarket parking lots since the September 9 fire.

Fatima Rezaie, 15, from Afghanistan, said her family decided to enroll in the new camp after seven days outdoors with little food. At the end of that period, she found worms crawling through her hair and told her father, crying, that she was ready for anything but homelessness.

She said the new camp is better than its predecessor, known as Moria, in part because few people have yet to move. But the toilets, she said, were already dirty. And because there was no running water Greek officials say they are trying to get her online within days that she had no shower since the fire.

Authorities say a small number of residents who protested against the restrictions on the new coronavirus set Moria on fire. The camp has been under mass quarantine since 35 migrants tested positive for the virus. Four people have been charged with arson, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

In the meantime, authorities have lost track of some of those with previously confirmed cases of the virus. And out of the first 1,000 people screened to enter the new tent camp, 39 tested positive, according to Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, president of the board of directors of Greece’s national public health organization.

All migrants appearing in the new camp are being screened for the virus in contrast to Moria, where health authorities had tested only a fraction of the population.

So far, 1,200 people have agreed to settle, according to official figures. Greek officials warn that asylum seekers must register at the camp to continue their legal status hearings. On Tuesday, migration minister Notis Mitarachi said in a televised interview that police would have to be used if people did not willingly go to the new camp.

Greek officials say tents are a temporary solution. They have also drawn up plans for a permanent indoor facility on the island.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was absolutely certain that a new, permanent facility would be built. I want to send this message in all directions, he said.

But locals are already protesting. Five years ago, at the height of the migrant crisis, many in Lesbos responded warmly to the influx of people arriving by boat. But locals have come to anger the authorities in Athens and Europe who allowed the migrant population on their island to shrink in size, and they vehemently oppose building any long-term structure.

Aid workers on the island say migrants’ concerns include fears that Greece will struggle to build a permanent structure and that the tent camp will become a long-term solution with the same sanitary problems.

I doubt the conditions in the new camp will be different, said Natasha Strachini, a lawyer at Refugee Support Aegean which represents about 60 asylum seekers on the island.

Even in the best case scenario, the tent camp will be in place during the winter, exposing their residents to the elements.

Greek officials said in interviews that the temporary camp will be humane and they have vowed to make it more suitable for next winter.

But for many migrants, the idea of ​​moving to a hastily constructed facility and undergoing an indefinite blockage is scary.

One migrant, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said he thought the new camp would be like a prison.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak hit Camp Moria, tensions were high. Migrants often stayed in the camp for more than a year. The facility was more than four times its capacity. People in the camp waited in line for hours for each meal. Children shivered during the winter, suffered scabies outbreaks, and developed deep chest coughs in older men.

When the first people started testing positive for the new coronavirus, aid workers stressed that camp residents were virtually vulnerable, given the overcrowding.

The Greek government is disgusted with the transfer of migrants from Lesbos to the mainland because officials say it could cause a potentially unstable situation, encouraging migrants in other smaller island camps to push for the same relocation.

For years, Greece and other Mediterranean countries have been forced to disproportionately host large numbers of asylum seekers, with other European countries closing their doors.

After the fire, Germany stands out for its promise to accept 1,500 people on Greek islands who have already acquired refugee status. But the vast majority of people in Moria were asylum seekers, not people classified as refugees. So far, other European countries have signaled a willingness to accept only unaccompanied minors a small part of the population.

Of the 12,500 who had been to Moria, 4,000 were children. Nearly 4 in 5 people were from Afghanistan, a group that gains some form of legal protection in Greece in 70 percent of cases.

A tricky factor is that Europe has struggled to deport Afghans who lose asylum issues. In 2019, across the European Union, about 30,000 Afghans were ordered to leave. But only 2,300 actually returned.

Eva Coss, a Greece-based researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Europe’s plans so far to help Greece were insufficient and she noted that efforts to host unaccompanied minors were in place before the fire.

We were talking about several hundred children, she said. But what about the rest?

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