Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 September 2020

EU plans new Lesbos refugee camp as Germany takes 1,500 stranded on Greek islands

A devastating fire in the island’s Moria camp has left 12,000 people homeless

Refugees from the destroyed camp of Moria are seen at the new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 13, 2020. Reuters
Refugees from the destroyed camp of Moria are seen at the new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 13, 2020. Reuters

The European Union will create a new refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in the wake of a disastrous fire which left 12,000 homeless.

The plans for the new camp, which the EU has said will “significantly improve” conditions on Lesbos, come amid renewed focus on the plight of thousands of refugees on Greek islands across the Aegean.

To help alleviate the pressure on local authorities following the inferno at the overcrowded Moria facility, Germany has said it will take an additional 1,500 refugees being held on Greek islands.

According to German authorities, the 408 families with children have already had their asylum claims granted.

The German government had already agreed to accept 150 unaccompanied minors. But Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Germany would take more refugees from across the Aegean after pressure from within her own centre-right party and her centre-left coalition partners.

Refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are seen inside a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 16, 2020. Reuters
Refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are seen inside a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 16, 2020. Reuters

The EU has said since the fire in Lesbos it has been in discussions with Greek authorities to replace Moria camp which was destroyed by the September 8 blaze.

A spokesperson for the EU Commission told The National Brussels had been working with Athens to work out “how to put in place facilities that could be managed together by the Greek authorities and, if necessary, also by EU agencies”.

It was their goal, they said, to “assist with asylum and return processes and significantly improve the conditions for the people who were living in Moria”.

In her state of the union address to the European parliament on Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU commission, called on the 27-member bloc to rise to the challenge of the migrant crisis and announced the creation of the new camp on Lesbos.

“The images of the Moria camp are a painful reminder of the need for Europe to come together,” she said.

A family from the destroyed Moria camp for refugees and migrants arrives at a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 16, 2020. Reuters
A family from the destroyed Moria camp for refugees and migrants arrives at a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 16, 2020. Reuters

“Everybody has to step up here and take responsibility – and the Commission will do just that. The commission is now working on a plan for a joint pilot with the Greek authorities for a new camp on Lesbos. We can assist with asylum and return processes and significantly improve the conditions for the refugees.

"But I want to be clear: if we step up, then I expect all Member States to step up too,” the EU commission president added.

On Lesbos, the international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), which along with other NGOs has long decried conditions for refugees on the islands, criticised a new camp already being built by Greek authorities to house those displaced by the Moria fire.

Crews this week hastily put together another tent camp which according to EU home affairs commissioner Yiva Johansson will eventually accommodate up to 9,000 people.

On Wednesday, the Greek migration ministry said roughly 1,200 of the 12,000 Moria migrants had been housed at the site.

A Greek army's helicopter carrying European Council President Charles Michel flies over the temporary camp where refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp will be accommodated, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 15, 2020. Reuters
A Greek army's helicopter carrying European Council President Charles Michel flies over the temporary camp where refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp will be accommodated, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 15, 2020. Reuters

“A new camp will do nothing to solve the structural issues that have caused chaos and suffering on the Greek islands for years. People need safe accommodation on the mainland and in other European countries,” Marco Sandrone, MSF field coordinator said.

MSF highlighted the plight of Moria residents still without somewhere to live explaining men, women, and children were still sleeping on the streets without basic access to food, water, shelter, and medical care.

In light of the condition still being endured by thousands of migrants sleeping rough in Lesbos, the UN’s refugee agency on Wednesday urged Greece to speed up asylum processes on Lesbos.

"The idea is not that people remain for ever on the island of Lesbos, but that processes are accelerated so that people can leave gradually and in an orderly way" to capital Athens or elsewhere on the mainland, the UN agency's chief in Greece Philippe Leclerc told reporters.

Greece's police minister Michalis Chrysochoidis this week said that "half" the migrants on Lesbos should be able to leave "by Christmas" and "the rest by Easter".

Late on Tuesday, another camp of over 4,700 people on the island of Samos was threatened by fire. Three migrants are being questioned by police over the incident.

Updated: September 16, 2020 06:28 PM

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