LESBOS, Greece – They are sleeping on cemeteries and roadways, in parking lots and among dry weeds on the hills. They have erected temporary tents with bamboo poles and blankets. They have used some clothes that they have to make a mattress so that their children do not fall asleep.
About 4,000 children, including hundreds of infants and 8,000 adults, are stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos without shelter or sanitation, most of them packed with a 1.5-mile stretch of coastal road, as the blaze last week Had surprised its squalid refugee camp, Europe’s largest.
“We survived the fire, but everything is black,” said Mujtaba Kirpan, sitting on a thin blanket on a street, next to his three-year-old son. Her 20-day-old baby slept nearby on her mother’s lap.
The fire has intensified in what was already a humanitarian disaster on the Aegean islands, where thousands of migrants live in camps in Europe with warehouses, toilets, rain, medical care and even severe shortages of food.
The camp is a focal point of the European Union’s strategy, following the migrant crisis of 2015-16, to slow the movement of people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa who seek to reach Europe. The camp, now called Moriya after the nearby village, was a unique symbol of European policy for years.
“The start of the camp was a tragedy,” Greece’s Prime Minister Kairakos Mitsotakis said in a speech on Sunday. “It was a sensitive bell for everyone that became sensitive. Europe cannot give a second failure on the issue of migration. “
Aid workers and Greek officials say the fire was started by a small group of refugees, who were angry that the government instructed them to quarantine after the outbreak of coronovirus, and the entire camp under a lockout was kept. But if the Kovid-19 was the spark that lit the tinderbox, its arrival in Moriya was hardly a surprise.
The European Commission – the executive arm of the European Union that has funded much for the construction and operation of the camps, but has not taken responsibility for its squealr – and aid groups warned that conditions there had led Moria to the disease outbreak Made an ideal breeding ground for
The remnants of Moriya left are burnt tents, ashes and debris, molten metal frames, cluttered communal toilets and a ripe pile of burnt mice lying next to potatoes and onions, which will never be consumed .
More than a million unspecified people entered Europe in 2015, fleeing violence and poverty – mainly war in Syria – and the vast majority hit the shores of Greece. The wealthiest countries of the continent were most likely northward, especially Germany, where many were able to settle. But some countries refused to take them in, and even in the most welcoming countries, the desire to take more over time.
The European Union sent additional funds to Greece, and made deals with Turkey and Libya, preventing migrants from moving forward. Those arriving in Greece must remain in camps while their application for asylum is processed, which may take more than a year.
Originally built to house 3,000 newcomers, Moria quickly spread to nearby olive trees and fields. Six months ago, more than 20,000 refugees lived there.
The epidemic accelerated the resettlement of thousands of them, but by the time the fire broke out last week, the camp was dramatically crowded, hosting 12,600 people.
No one will miss it, homeless asylum seekers said, even as they faced more nights in the open.
“I think sleeping on the street is bad, but Moriya is bad-bad,” said 15-year-old Mahboob Ahjani, who had been in camp with her family for 10 months. But what would be worse, he said, “is the new morea.”
“They are building it again, and I don’t want to leave – it will be a prison,” he said of the tent city that the Greek army is establishing. Greek officials said they expect migrants to move in the next few days, with 2,000 tents in the new seaside camp, fitting six people in each tent.
Migrants, about two-thirds of whom are Afghans, fear that they will simply be put into a lockdown where the coronovirus will move en masse. By Sunday evening more than 1,000 people had voluntarily moved into the city of Tents. Seven out of 300 tested were infected with the virus.
Refugee seekers were desperate to get away from Lesbo, staging a protest against the new camp on Saturday, a small number of confrontations with the Greek riot police who responded with tear gas that left women and children screaming at them .
After the first cases were detected in Moria earlier this month – eventually at least 35 people tested positive – the government responded by canceling the entire camp rather than simply isolating the infected and their close contacts. Medical groups and support personnel protested that due to the simultaneous gathering of thousands, the decision put everyone at risk, including pregnant women and elderly people.
Local authorities on Lesbos, hostile to any moves that might be interpreted as improving the lives of asylum seekers, hindered the establishment of a response plan. He threatened to sue and fined international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières for alleged violations of urban planning rules with his temporary Kovid-19 segregation facility, forcing the organization to shut it down. A similar clinic built with donations from the Dutch government had no staff and was never operated.
Aid workers and officials say that some camp residents who had flared up saying they were isolated, set them on fire.
Homeless refugees desperate to leave Lesbos are aligned with tired locals who have changed their island dramatically since 2015. They then helped rescue and feed the Syrians, who crossed through Turkey in flimsy boats, but the handling of the refugees. Since then, the growing population trapped in the camp and incidents of petty crime have reduced reserves of leniency .
The Greek government has said in a bid to manage the expectations of both groups that most asylum seekers will remain displaced from the blasts and remain on Lesbo. He worries that a large-scale relocation to the mainland, to which many migrants have pleaded, could spark rebellion among 15,000 people who are still trapped in grave camps on four other islands.
The government also wants to send a stern message in the wake of the harsh migration policy of the new Greek government, which has prevented asylum seekers from reaching Greece using methods that human rights groups illegally decide. Greece has driven some migrants who reach the waters of the country, leaving them in rafts at sea.
According to officials, out of the 12,600 people who fled the fire, 400 children were unconscious, who have already been taken to mainland Greece and will travel to new homes throughout the European Union. Another 1,200 people have already been granted refugee status, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Mitsotakis, said that he was in talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel to transfer some of them to Germany.
And the European Commission, which has disregarded responsibility for severe conditions in Moria over the Greek government, raised the possibility of a new, improved first reception facility on Lesbos that it would co-manage with Greece.
Nevertheless, after several days of arson, it was clear that most EU countries were not there to help the displaced of Greece and Moria. Most who have expressed a desire to take an interest in asylum seekers do not want large numbers, and to choose them based on the criteria that Greece has long cried as deeply unfair.
Many countries want only illegals to be minors, and others said they would take only a few dozen Syrians or Yemenis according to international migration officials. Speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, officials welcomed the proposals, but said most of the people in need of assistance on the island were Afghans.
A new EU migration and asylum policy, which has been in the works for months and due to be presented this month, is to address the reluctance of most EU countries to take any refugees from countries where they have previously been on the continent. Reach Greece, such as Greece and Italy. Their resistance to helping mitigate the crisis over Lesbos is not good for such an agreement.
“The near-total demolition of the Moriya camp has removed the fig leaf allowing policymakers to close their eyes to the fact that the EU’s inept solutions to welcome newcomers have persisted for years now,” Han Bearens, director of the Brussels-based think tank Migration Policy Institute Europe, in a note.
“Asylum seekers on an island have been, in some cases for years, under the weakest of conditions, a symptom of Europe unable to devise a uniform solution around burden-sharing,” she said.
For some at Lesbos, the prospect of a meaningful life in a long journey to fire and coronovirus protection are more curballs.
Sixteen-year-old Yasser Taheri was carrying tea and bread with his family next to a small chapel in the olive groves on Sunday, where they slept in a fire as their tent caught fire.
The family was granted asylum, but awaited new identity cards when the fire broke out. Despite the setback, Mr Taheri said he was determined to get away from Lesbos and return to school.
“I should be in school, but there is no possibility to study in the position I am in and work can be all that I can do now,” I said. “But it cannot be forever. “I don’t want to leave my education, I came here for this.”
Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens.