Greece secures thousands of tents for displaced migrants after Lesbos fires

Thousands of migrants remained stranded without shelter on the island of Lesbos for a third day on Friday, sleeping on streets or in fields near Greece's largest refugee camp after devastating fires burned the facility to the ground.

Several European countries agree to take in unaccompanied minors displaced by fires at Moria camp

A migrant pours water on the head of another on the beach near Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on Friday. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of migrants remained stranded without shelter on the island of Lesbos for a third day on Friday, sleeping on streets or in fields near Greece's largest refugee camp after devastating fires burned the facility to the ground.

The Moria camp, long notorious for poor living conditions, had hosted more than 12,000 migrants, four times its stated capacity. Wednesday's fire, which followed a blaze set the day before, turned the sprawling site into a mass of smouldering metal and melted tents.

The Greek government said it had secured thousands of tents to provide temporary shelter for the migrants. A passenger ferry docked at the island's port of Mytilene to help provide assistance.

But Athens's plans face stiff resistance from local authorities and residents who fear the temporary shelters will turn into another permanent migrant camp.

"It is a tragic opportunity for migrants to leave … Moria is a monstrosity," Dimitris Koursoubas, a senior official responsible for migration in the northern Aegean islands, told Reuters. "We want all the migrants out, for national reasons. Moria is over."

Greek soldiers set up tents Friday at a former shooting range to accommodate refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp following a fire, on the island of Lesbos. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

Local attitudes on an island at the forefront of the European migrant crisis of 2015-2016, though initially welcoming, have turned largely hostile as the camp population expanded. Most migrants are from Afghanistan and Syria.

On Wednesday, government spokesperson Stelios Petsas stressed that none of the camp's residents, except for unaccompanied children who had been living there, would be allowed to leave the island.

Migrants tired, hungry

Aid organizations have long warned about dire conditions in the camp, which has a capacity of just over 2,750 people but was housing more than 12,500 inside and in a spillover tent city that sprang up in an adjacent olive grove.

Thousands of migrants slept on roadsides and fields for a second night on Thursday. Others camped in a cemetery.

"Moria finished," said Zohra, a 25-year-old Afghan woman. "We are two days on the road, no water, no food, very cold at night."

Some European Union countries have offered to take in the refugees, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said late on Thursday, without elaborating. Cities and regional governments in Germany have also offered to take in people, but this can only happen if the federal government in Berlin allows them.

Homelesss migrants and refugees rest as they spend the night at a gas station near Mytilene. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images)

"Moria is here to remind us of a Europe we need to change," European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, who visited Lesbos, told the Athens News Agency.

"The clock has run out on how long Europe can live without a migration policy," said Schinas, who was in Greece to discuss the Moria fire with Greek officials. The EU's executive commission plans to present a new "pact for migration and asylum" on Sept. 30, he said.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Friday that 10 EU countries had agreed to participate in taking in the unaccompanied children from Moria and that talks were ongoing with others.

He said Germany and France would take the largest share, "about two-thirds" of the 406 teenagers and children who had been living at the camp without parents or guardians.

Migrants argue for a crate of tomatoes as food is distributed on the northeastern island of Lesbos on Thursday. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

German officials identified the other countries that would help take in the unaccompanied children as Finland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Croatia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland.

Some EU member states including Hungary and Poland have previously refused point-blank to take in any of the migrants who have been arriving in southern Europe in the past few years.

The Greek government has said Wednesday's fire was started by asylum seekers reacting to quarantine measures after COVID-19 was detected in the camp, though it has not provided any evidence.

LISTEN l The Current: On the ground in Lesbos

We talk to journalist Katy Fallon on the ground in Lesbos, Greece, where the country’s largest refugee camp, Moria, has burned to the ground in the middle of a COVID-19 lockdown. 11:32

Thirty-five people who fled the fires in the early hours of Wednesday had tested positive for COVID-19, further complicating efforts by the police and local authorities to gather the migrants in one place, near the port, and to provide shelter.

The camp was quarantined last week after a 40-year-old man tested positive for COVID-19. Bracing for a possible surge in cases, authorities were sending 19,000 test kits to the island.

With files from The Associated Press