Greek Police Arrest Five Over Lesbos Fire, Migrants Resist New Camp

September 15, 2020 Updated: September 15, 2020

LESBOS, Greece—Greek police have detained six migrants over a fire that razed the Moria refugee camp to the ground, the government said on Tuesday, as thousands of displaced people refused to move to a new facility and demanded to leave Lesbos island.

Authorities were searching for one more person, Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisohoidis said.

More than 12,000 people, mostly migrants from Afghanistan, Africa, and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation, or access to food and water after a fire tore through the overcrowded Moria migrant camp last Wednesday.

Two men sleep as refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are sheltered near a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos
Two men sleep as migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are sheltered near a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Sept.15, 2020. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

Greek authorities believe the fire was deliberately lit by camp occupants after quarantine measures were imposed following the discovery of COVID cases on the site, but the incident has put the migrant issue firmly back on the European agenda.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis repeated a call for more help from the European Union, which has struggled to find a unified approach to the migrant crisis at its borders, saying it was time for “tangible solidarity” from Europe.

European Council President Charles Michel was due to visit Lesbos later on Tuesday and government officials in Berlin said Germany could take in up to 1,500 people stranded by the fire, in addition to 100-150 Berlin has already agreed to take in. But a wider solution has remained elusive.

A baby sits in a tent as refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are sheltered near a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos
A baby sits in a tent as migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are sheltered near a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Sept.15, 2020. (Alkis Konstantinidis/ Reuters)

Mitsotakis said a permanent new reception facility would be built on Lesbos with EU support and that the notoriously overcrowded and squalid Moria camp “belongs to the past”.

On the ground in Lesbos, however, thousands, including children, were still sleeping rough a week after the blaze.

Officials were struggling to overcome resistance from migrants hoping to be allowed to leave the island.

Only a few hundred migrants, mainly unaccompanied minors, have been moved off Lesbos. Greek officials have said there will be no mass transfers and all asylum seekers will have to go into the new shelter.

By Vassilis Triandafyllou