Lesbos fires: France and Germany plan to help migrants in Moria refugee camp

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“We are coordinating to come up with a proposal, Germany and France, and we are trying to include as many European countries as possible, in particular to welcome refugees and minors, according to the requests of the Greek government,” Macron said. during a speech in Corsica.

He declared that Europe must stand in solidarity with Greece in the face of “the terrible reality that awaits us”.

Details of the response will be finalized “in the next few hours,” Macron added. Thursday evening, the Med7 Summit will bring together the leaders of the countries of southern Europe in Porticcio, Corsica.

“What is happening in Moria is a humanitarian catastrophe,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted. “As soon as possible, we need to clarify with the European Commission and other EU countries willing to help, how we can support Greece. This includes the distribution of those who flee among those in the EU willing to accept them. “The fires which razed the camp were started by residents expressing their “dissatisfaction” with the lockdown measures linked to the coronavirus, say the Greek authorities.

Moria, which was locked down after 35 people tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week, was home to around 13,000 people, more than six times its maximum capacity of 2,200 people. More than 4,000 children lived in the camp, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

In a televised statement, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared a state of emergency on the island, condemning the rioters who he said had started the fires that ravaged the camp.

“I recognize the difficult conditions. However, nothing can become an alibi for violent reactions to checkups. And, much more, for riots of this magnitude, ”Mitsotakis said. “The situation in Moria cannot continue because it is a matter of public health, humanity and national security at the same time. ”

The country’s Migration and Asylum Minister, Panagiotis Mitarachis, confirmed to CNN that the blaze appeared to be on purpose, adding that a new “safer” and “more humane” facility was needed.

“It is clear that we need a new facility that is safer, offering more humane conditions and providing the appropriate capacity needed,” he said.

Unaccompanied children deleted

A group of more than 400 unaccompanied children have been deported from Lesvos following the fire, the Greek government said in a statement on Thursday.

“The departure of the 406 unaccompanied minors from Lesbos ended at dawn, with coordinated actions from the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum and the International Organization for Migration,” the statement said.

A group of children board one of three planes carrying 406 unaccompanied minors from the burnt camp to mainland Greece on Wednesday evening.

The children were first sent to shelters on the island before setting off on three chartered flights departing from Odysseas Elytis Airport in Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, between 10 p.m. Wednesday evening and 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning local time, according to the press release.

“The children have been transferred to safe accommodation facilities in the north of mainland Greece, where they will stay temporarily, due to the resettlement program in EU countries and their placement in long-term guesthouses on the continent continue unabated, ”the statement said, adding being tested for Covid-19.

“The main concern of the Greek government is the protection of people at risk. “

The children will eventually be transferred to EU countries, according to the Greek government.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said of the migrants accused of starting the fires: “They thought that if they burned Moria, everyone, without exception, would leave the island. We tell them that they did not understand. They will not leave because of the fire, except for unaccompanied minors who have already been transferred. Therefore, no matter what those who started the fires had in mind, they can forget it. ”

On Thursday, another small fire broke out at Moria camp. Local residents have set up several roadblocks to the military or other vehicles carrying materials to rebuild or clean up the camp.

Residents of Lesvos already disagree with the government over plans to replace Moria with a closed reception center. Locals fear this will mean thousands of asylum seekers will remain on the island permanently.

‘The whole camp is burnt’

No injuries were reported, but George Moutafis, a ground photographer, told Greek television station Mega that the camp was “completely destroyed”.

“The Moria camp no longer exists. The camp was completely destroyed. The containers and the tents were completely destroyed. The fires are now extinguished. Many migrants and refugees are now back in the camp and looking for their belongings, ”Moutafis said.

“The whole camp is burned down,” he said Wednesday.

Charities and activists on the ground also said the blaze had destroyed large swathes of the camp.

“Yesterday evening, some people living in the camp were angry with the quarantine. They lit a small fire. So the police came and there was tear gas. And then the fire intensified and we had to run, ”said one camp resident, who refused to release his full name for security reasons.

“There is nothing there. I stand in the street, near the camp, there are a lot of people here. There are also police officers but they do not tell us where to go, ”added the resident. “We have no food or water. They say “wait here”. It is very hot today and there are women and babies. ”

A resident of the Congolese camp, Paul Kadima Muzangueno, told CNN that a group of miners started the fire.

“They started fires everywhere,” Muzangueno said. “Everything quickly deteriorated. The police did not get the situation under control. “

A group of 406 unaccompanied minors were deported from the island.  The camp housed around 13,000 people, more than six times its maximum capacity.

German charity Mission Lifeline said in a statement: “In the evening the anger and despair of the refugees who were interned in Moria erupted. ”

“First there was an argument at the Covid-19 station in the camp which spread throughout the area overnight. The security forces used tear gas, ”the statement read. “A large part of the houses burned down. The homeless fled to the surrounding olive groves. ”

Axel Steier, co-founder of Mission Life, said he warned the situation “will escalate” due to poor camp conditions, calling the lockdown measures “the last straw.”

A woman carries a child after the fire that ravaged the migrant camp on the Greek island of the Aegean Sea.

“The people of Moria are exposed to extreme psychological stress. Locking down the camp has now been the last straw, ”Steier said. “The refugees from Moria are not treated like humans.

“Among other things, we asked the [German] federal government repeatedly to evacuate all people from the Greek camps. But hardly anything happened, ”added Steier.

State of limbo

The Moria encampment stretches from the main United Nations camp into olive groves where thousands of people live in makeshift wooden huts. Its residents say they wait hours before going to the bathroom and sometimes spend an entire day queuing for food.

When CNN reported the camp in March, a smell of rank pervaded the air, the river was littered with garbage, and camp residents staged almost daily protests at the island’s main port demanding transport to the Greek mainland.

A young girl stands amid the rubble in the burned-out camp after the fires that Greek authorities believe were started by residents.

On Wednesday, migrant residents of Moria described being in a state of uncertainty, awaiting instructions from authorities among their charred belongings. “We weren’t told anything. Nobody showed up, ”Muzangueno said. “We are here and we are waiting. ”

Mitsotakis promised to accommodate the migrants in “adapted tents” but said they would be prohibited from leaving the island.

In a statement on Wednesday, the United Nations Refugee Agency said it had deployed staff to the region and offered assistance to Greek authorities.

“UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, deplores the fire that largely destroyed the Moria Registration and Identification Center (RIC) last night and thanks the local authorities, including the firefighters and emergency services who helped contain the fire and aided the population, ”the statement said.

CNN’s Barbara Wojazer and Emma Reynolds contributed to this report.

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