Greece accuses migrants of deliberately burning their camp

Published September 15, 2020
A view of destroyed shelters at the Moria camp for refugees and migrants following a fire on the island of Lesbos, Greece. — Reuters/File
A view of destroyed shelters at the Moria camp for refugees and migrants following a fire on the island of Lesbos, Greece. — Reuters/File

LESBOS ISLAND: Greece on Monday accused migrants of deliberately burning their overcrowded camp last week on Lesbos island, where hundreds reluctantly moved to a new temporary site with “no showers or mattresses”.

Families, children, young men and pregnant women have been left wandering aimlessly since a blaze ripped through the Moria camp on the night of Sept 8, forcing its 12,000 occupants to sleep rough in abandoned buildings, on roadsides and even rooftops.

“The camp was burned by refugees and migrants who wanted to blackmail the government in order to be rapidly transferred from the island (to the continent),” Stelios Petsas, the Greek government’s spokesman, told reporters in Athens.

He gave no further details. Greece’s migrations minister last week made similar accusations, even as an investigation has yet to conclude.

Authorities are erecting a new camp of white tents in haste near the eastern port-village of Panagiouda as exhaustion, hunger and fear set in, and locals look on with trepidation. Many refugees refuse to go there, fearing they will just be forgotten inside. Others are reluctantly making their way to the site.

The new camp “seems harsh, with its direct sunlight and no shade. But I’m entering tomorrow as I have no choice,” said Pariba, an Afghan woman.

Inside the site, which is closed to the press, Malik, an Algerian migrant, said that he had settled there with his wife and five children.

“There’s nothing in the camp, no shower, no mattresses. There is only one meal per day, and they give us a carton with six bottles of water,” said the French teacher.

He added he was currently living alongside some 200 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and African countries.Residents nearby were looking on with a wary eye, calling on European countries to lend a helping hand.

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

“Greece can’t handle alone the situation, the EU has to find a solution.” Afentoulis was quick to point out this was not always the case in Lesbos, the main port of entry for arrivals in EU member state Greece because of its close proximity to Turkey.

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

“But after, when Moria got full with people, they started to steal our sheep, and made damages,” Afentoulis said.

Not far off, four young Somalis who dream of going to France or Germany hoped to be allowed into the new camp. They too were scared.

“If we go there we are killed,” said Ahmed, 18, showing the road where thousands of refugees are sleeping rough and then pointing to the nearby village. Several European countries have signed up to a scheme to host unaccompanied minors from the destroyed Moria camp. But that’s around 400 people, a drop in the ocean.

Germany said Monday it was mulling taking in more migrants, possibly families with children.

In the meantime, Petsas, the Greek government spokesman, said the aim was to house everyone in the temporary camp within three to four days.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2020

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