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Greece: Population movement (Moria camp fire) - Information Bulletin no. 1

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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is seeking funding or other assistance from donors to continue supporting the Hellenic Red Cross (HRC) in through its currently ongoing MDR65003 Emergency Appeal on Turkey-Greece and other countries: Population Movement. This Emergency Appeal is currently being revised with an increased budget and will be adjusted to reflect additional needs as a result of the fire. Those wanting to respond to the crisis on Lesvos are encouraged to contribute to this appeal.

This bulletin is being issued for information and reflects the current situation and details available at this time.

The situation

On Tuesday night, 8 September 2020, a devastating fire ripped through the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria, on the island of Lesvos, as residents remained in COVID-19 lockdown. Fire broke out in a number of spots around the Moria refugee camp which has led authorities to suspect arson. There have been no known casualties and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The camp was at more than four times its capacity and the fire has all but destroyed it, prompting close to 13,000 refugees who had been living there to flee. More than 4,000 children, including 408 unaccompanied children, had been living in the camp. The 408 unaccompanied children were transferred from Lesvos to Thessaloniki on three flights between Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning.

The Greek Prime Minister has announced a four-month state of emergency on the island.

Sanitary conditions in Moria camp were alarming before the COVID-19 lockdown and fire. Tensions within the camp and with local residents were high and were heightened even further when three dozen people living in the camp were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the days before the fire. Authorities are trying to locate all those who tested positive and dispersed in the chaotic situation after the fire.

Police have blocked roads to prevent migrants from reaching the town of Mytilene, and more roadblocks were set up in an effort to keep some 4,000 migrants in Moria and a second large migrant camp in Kara Tepe.

Greek authorities have accommodated a thousand of the most vulnerable refugees with disabilities and health problems on a ferry boat. Authorities aim to ensure continuous provision of food and potable water to all people staying currently in external spaces and temporary shelters on the island; to transfer necessary materials to shelter people in a safe area; and to distribute basic hygiene items to the affected people.

The authorities are creating more temporary shelter spaces using tents in several locations on Lesvos. A first group of migrants will be hosted in a new temporary site with 240 tents provided by UNHCR while other options and suitable sites are being identified. Migrants are tested for COVID-19 before they can enter a new accommodation site.

Several European member states have confirmed that they are ready to relocate some of the migrants from Moria, including unaccompanied minors who have already been transferred to Thessaloniki. EU member states are also responding to the request by the Greek government for humanitarian relief items and other materials including COVID-19 tests.

Main humanitarian needs and concerns

The most immediate humanitarian needs include emergency shelter solutions, blankets, water, food, health care, first aid and protection. Securing water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has been highlighted as a major need for all migrants, particularly in the current COVID-19 context. There is also need for Psychosocial support (PSS) and Restoring Family links (RFL) services.

This is a very complex and fluid context, and there are several operational challenges ranging from community tensions and security concerns, uncertainty about the future location of those affected in the short and longer term, the risks related to the further spread of COVID-19, the considerable coordination challenges with a large number of humanitarian and other actors, and logistical constraints.

Looking ahead, there will also be an increased demand for adequate reception facilities and services for migrants on the mainland. Last, but not least there is a need for sustained advocacy for more durable solutions and a European migration approach based on solidarity, prompt access to protection and fair asylum procedures, and respect for dignity.