Woman and children react as refugees and migrants from the destroyed camp of Moria flee clash with the police, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Sept. 12, 2020. (Reuters Photo)
Hundreds of Palestinian refugees and thousands of other asylum seekers taking shelter in Moria camp, set up on the Greek island of Lesbos, have expressed deep concern over their deteriorating humanitarian condition after a fire rocked the substandard migrant facility.
Just days after the fire tore through the Moria refugee camp and displaced more than 12,000 people, some of those same people were tear-gassed by police while protesting the construction of a replacement camp.
Protesters say they want to leave the island altogether.
Hundreds of refugees gathered Saturday, some chanting "freedom" and carrying signs, while bulldozers cleared debris in preparation for a new tent settlement, Reuters reported. Police fired tear gas after some protesters tried to march to Mytilene, the island's main city.
The new Lesbos camp, set up at an army firing range, will host about 3,000 people, according to local media. Families and members of "vulnerable groups" will get priority, government officials said. It's not clear what will happen to the other 9,000 or so refugees.
After the fires, Greek officials relocated more than 400 unaccompanied children to mainland Greece, according to CNN. But authorities have refused mass transfer off the island, despite the pleas of refugees. Officials promised to provide safe and sanitary conditions at the new tent encampment.
The Moria camp was built to house 3,000 people but at least four times as many people have been living there.
Complicating the resettlement are fears of the coronavirus. Authorities have lost track of 35 camp residents who had tested positive for the virus, Reuters reported. And the displaced refugees have had no access to basic sanitation in the days since the Moria camp burned.
The unsanitary conditions being endured by Moria's former inhabitants in the fields and streets of Lesbos has caused deep alarm.
"This is a health bomb. These people haven't even had access to water all these days, they cannot even wash their hands," Matina Pagoni, president of Athens and Piraeus hospital doctors' union, told Skai television.
Many of the asylum seekers in Moria described life there as being worse than much of what they had endured on their long, often painful journeys towards what they hoped was a better life in Europe.
Human Rights Watch said the Moria fires "highlight the failure of the European Union's 'hotspot approach' ... which has led to the containment of thousands of people on the Greek islands".
"European leaders should share responsibility for the reception and support of asylum seekers. Also, Greek authorities should ensure that respect for human rights is at the centre of its response to this fire," the rights group's Eva Cosse said in a statement.