ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece moved hundreds of migrants on the island of Lesbos into tents on Monday after a fire last week destroyed the refugee centre where they were housed.
More than 12,000 people, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation or access to food and water after the fire tore through the overcrowded Moria migrant camp last Wednesday.
As Greek authorities began moving people away from the roadsides and open fields where they had been sleeping, there were growing calls for other European countries to take in more migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, dismissed calls from some local and regional politicians for more of the displaced people to be brought to Germany, saying relief efforts had to be part of a wider package of measures.
“There’s no sense in just talking about numbers,” she said, adding that Germany could help by supporting a new European migrant reception centre on Lesbos, echoing a proposal by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“I think that would be an important step to a stronger European approach to immigration policy,” she said.
A broad European solution has proved elusive for years, despite repeated appeals by countries such as Greece and Italy, where most of the migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean arrive, but the European Commission is due to present a new migration pact on Sept. 23.
On Lesbos, transfers into the new tent encampments were being held up by fears of a spread of COVID-19, with at least 21 people testing positive for the disease, as well as by fears among many that the new camp will be no better than the squalid conditions they endured in Moria.
Authorities have already moved some 400 minors from Lesbos to the Greek mainland since the blaze for possible resettlement in other European countries, but have refused to allow the majority to leave the island.
Some 800 people had been moved into tent accommodation by Monday evening, officials said.
“We expect that in the next three to four days all (the migrants on Lesbos) will be housed,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.
(Reporting by Vassilis Triandafyllou, Additional reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Writing by Angeliki Koutantou and James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)