MORIA, Lesbos (AP) — Some asylum-seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos moved into temporary tent housing Saturday, part of the thousands left homeless after fires destroyed the notoriously overcrowded Moria migrant camp.
More than 100 people moved into the new camp built with UNHCR tents after first undergoing coronavirus tests. More than 12,000 people were left homeless after fires on Tuesday and Wednesday gutted the Moria camp in the midst of a coronavirus lockdown.
Officials said the blazes were deliberately set by some camp residents who were angry at quarantine orders imposed after 35 people in Moria tested positive for COVID-19. Thousands have spent four nights sleeping in the open under improvised shelters of reed stalks, blankets and salvaged tents.
The Moria camp was built to house around 2,750, but overcrowding led to more than 12,500 people living in squalor, and had been held up by critics as a symbol of the European Union's migration policy failings.
Authorities flew in the new tents by helicopter to avoid protests by residents angered at the use of their island as a holding center for thousands of people from the Mideast, Africa and Asia arriving from nearby Turkey.
The new camp has a capacity of around 3,000, although authorities said they will provide housing for all left homeless. Plans to use a ferry as temporary accommodation for migrants have been stymied after local officials demanded to know how long the ship would be used.
Some children among the first families to move into the new tent camp discovered a small beach nearby and were playing in the water.
Earlier Saturday, many migrants held a mostly peaceful protest demanding to be allowed to leave the island, a gathering that also drew supporters with Black Lives Matter signs.
"We need peace & freedom. Moria kills all lives," read one. One scuffle with riot police broke out but was short-lived.
Leaving the island would require bending EU rules, under which asylum-seekers reaching Greek islands must stay until they are either granted refugee status or deported back to Turkey.
Authorities said none of the camp's residents — except for 406 unaccompanied minors — will be allowed to leave Lesbos. Those teens and children were flown to the Greek mainland on Wednesday, and several European countries will take some of them in.