Thousands of migrants remained stranded on Lesbos island for a third day on streets near Greece’s largest migrant camp on Friday, after fires burned the facility the ground.
The Moria camp – notorious for poor living conditions – hosted more than 12,000 migrants, four times its stated capacity. A devastating fire on Wednesday turned the sprawling site into a mass of smouldering metal and melted tents.
Greece’s conservative government said it had secured thousands of tents to provide temporary shelter to migrants who fled the flames. A passenger ferry has docked at the island’s port of Mytilene for any assistance.
But the government’s plans were resisted by local authorities and residents who fear the temporary shelters would turn into another permanent migrant camp.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Greek MEGA TV late on Thursday that locals wanted the migrants out.
“We are ready with the tents, we are ready to cover the needs of families and the vulnerable,” he said.
“The regional authority’s counter-offer is that they get on a boat and sail to Piraeus (port in Athens). This is technically not feasible, it would cause more safety issues, due to the coronavirus.”
Thousands of migrants slept on roadsides and fields for a second night on Thursday. Greek television showed others camping in a cemetery.
“Moria finished,” said Zohra, a 25-year-old woman from Afghanistan. “We are two days on the road, no water, no food, very cold at night.”
Some who fled the fires in the early hours of Wednesday had previously tested positive for COVID-19 after an outbreak of the disease in the camp, further complicating the task of gathering migrants in one place and providing them with shelter.
Local attitudes on an island at the forefront of the European migrant crisis of 2015-2016 have turned largely hostile in recent years as the camp population rose.
The island’s authorities have also been opposed to government plans to replace the open-air Moria camp with a closed facility.
The government has said, without providing any evidence, that the fire was started by asylum seekers reacting to quarantine measures after the COVID-19 infections were detected.
The camp was quarantined last week after a 40-year-old man tested positive for COVID-19. At least 35 migrants tested positive before the fire broke out, but Mitarachi said all of them are missing.
Bracing for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases, authorities were sending 19,000 test kits to the island.