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Teargas fired during migrant protests on Greek island of Lesbos

  • Published at 06:49 pm September 12th, 2020
Greece Moria Camp protest
Refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp protest after the news about the creation of a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos on September 12, 2020 Reuters

The Moria camp burned down in successive fires on Tuesday night and Wednesday

Greek riot police fired tear gas at protesting asylum seekers on Lesbos island on Saturday as tensions simmered following the catastrophic fire that ripped through Europe's largest migrant camp this week.

Thousands of asylum seekers have been sleeping rough on Lesbos since Wednesday when the Moria camp was destroyed in apparent arson attacks, with families huddling under blankets and sleeping in doorways 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.

A fire set there earlier in the day near a police blockade had to be extinguished by the fire brigade. 

"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 5-month-old baby, told AFP. 

"In Moria we could come and go but this (new camp) will be like a prison."

Some people suffering from respiratory problems because of the tear gas were taken away in ambulances, according to the migrants. 

Tensions

Round-the-clock efforts to find temporary shelter for over 11,000 people made homeless 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 on Saturday.

The Moria camp, which had been regularly criticized by the UN and rights groups for overcrowding and its dismal sanitary conditions, burned down in successive fires on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

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

Many of the mostly Afghan asylum seekers have spent months in desperate conditions on the island, hoping in vain to be allowed to cross tightly shut European borders.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi on Saturday said the new camp, a few kilometres from Moria at a location near the sea, would open later on Saturday with 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.