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AFP
September 13, 2020

Teargas fired during migrant protests on Greek island

World

AFP
September 13, 2020

LESBOS ISLAND, Greece: Greek riot police fired tear gas at protesting asylum seekers on Lesbos island on Saturday, as thousands demanded help after being left homeless by the fire that destroyed Europe´s largest migrant camp.

Asylum seekers -- from elderly to newborns -- have been sleeping rough on Lesbos since Wednesday, when the Moria camp was gutted in apparent arson attacks. Families have been huddling under blankets and sleeping in doorways, parking lots or by roads.

Clashes occurred on Saturday near a new temporary camp built by Greek authorities where hundreds of young men gathered to protest, some throwing stones at riot police who responded with tear gas.

Earlier in the day, fire fighters had to put out a fire near a police blockade.

"Freedom!" said one handwritten sign held up by a protester. "We want to leave Moria," said another.

"We were protesting peacefully against the new camp and the police threw tear gas against us. My baby had the gas in her eyes!", Zola, a Congolese woman carrying her five-month-old baby, told AFP.

Some people suffering from respiratory problems were taken away in ambulances, while others fainted, according to the migrants.

Adding to the chaos, migrants wrestled each other to grab water bottles thrown out of vans, AFP photographers reported. Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told reporters that keeping access open to food, water and medical supplies was a "priority", even as aid organisations said they had difficulty reaching the homeless.

Efforts to find temporary shelter for over 11,000 people left on the street by the destruction of the Moria camp were still inadequate, rights groups said. "As thousands are now left sleeping rough in the hills around Moria or on the streets, tensions between local residents, asylum seekers, and police are increasing," Human Rights Watch warned in a statement Saturday. The Moria camp, regularly criticised by the UN and rights groups for overcrowding and dismal sanitary conditions, burned down in successive fires on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Government officials blamed migrants for the blazes, the first breaking out shortly after 35 people tested positive for coronavirus and were facing isolation measures.

On Saturday, a 20-day-old Afghan baby was found positive for coronavirus, state agency ANA said. The baby and its mother, who also tested positive, were expected to be transported to Athens.

Mitarachi on Saturday said the new camp, a few kilometres from Moria at a location near the sea, would open later Saturday with a capacity for 3,000 people.

"Rapid tests for coronavirus will be conducted at the entrance," Mitarachi told Skai TV.

Alexandros Ragavas, a spokesman for the migration ministry, said vulnerable asylum seekers would be the first to be housed.

"We will give priority to families. It will be tents of six and the camp will be separated by ethnicities," he told AFP.

"The process of moving people will start today." Local volunteer groups have struggled to supply asylum seekers with food and water.

"We are sleeping in the dirt or on the road under the open sky," a group of migrants from the former camp said on Facebook. Some people had even found shelter under the trees of the local Greek cemetery, they added.