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Greece: update on Lesvos situation after Moria fires

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Afghan refugees at a temporary site set up by Greek authorities and UNHCR to shelter some of the thousands who fled the Moria reception centre fire, Lesvos, Greece. © UNHCR

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Efforts are continuing in Greece to shelter asylum seekers made homeless in a series of fires that devastated Moria Reception and Identification Centre in Lesvos last week.

Close to 5,000 people are now being housed in the new emergency facility in Kara Tepe which has capacity to accommodate some 8,000 people, while works are ongoing. The site was set-up by Greek authorities - who hold overall responsibility for the management and coordination of the humanitarian response - with the support of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and other organizations.

A police operation, which commenced on 17 September, is ongoing to transfer asylum seekers to the new site. We understand the operation proceeds smoothly and no use of force or incidents of violence were reported.

Before entering the facility, all new residents are undergoing rapid COVID-19 testing to help contain the virus. As of today, as a result of mass testing, we understand there are some 150 positive cases. All have received medical attention and are isolating in a quarantine area within the new site.

Our teams are assisting with site planning and mapping to facilitate the shelter allocation, provision of information and distribution of relief items for all those who enter the site. Refugees seem relieved to have found basic assistance but still worn-out from being on the street for several days and worried about the future.

This new site is currently functioning as an emergency shelter facility, intended to cover immediate and urgent needs of those affected by the fires in Moria, in terms of shelter, food, water, sanitation and medical care. UNHCR supports its use as temporary solution but cautions that what may be deemed adequate in terms of shelter and services during emergency situations is not appropriate for the longer-term. Greek authorities are yet to clarify the future use of this site.

We stand ready to support discussions on possible long-term solutions, including the continuation of safe and orderly transfers to the mainland and EU-supported relocations.

UNHCR welcomes the announced decision of the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachis to transfer all unaccompanied children living on the islands (around 400) to proper accommodation and care in the mainland that UNHCR and IOM are assisting.

We also hope the forthcoming European Commission Pact on Migration and Asylum will be an opportunity for the EU and Member States to address these issues and ensure more support, solidarity and responsibility-sharing with countries, like Greece, that are faced with exceptional challenges.

Separately, in the wake of a number of arrests of suspects in connection to the fires in Moria, we urge people to refrain from speculation and allow legal processes to be duly followed. It is not fair to stigmatize communities and groups on the account of alleged individual actions of certain individuals. We hope the legal process will help establish the circumstances regarding this incident.

UNHCR has extensive video coverage of the situation on Lesvos available at Refugees Media, including these recent videos.

UNHCR head in Greece speaks at emergency site: https://media.unhcr.org/Share/fp6200ye8ggd55s3226t40b63h28w51t

An urgent effort to help thousands of homeless asylum-seekers on Lesvos: https://media.unhcr.org/Share/5c54q580tw607ur1u6sdu4sv75f0x7ei

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Athens, Stella Nanou, nanou@unhcr.org, + 30 69 4458 6037
  • In Geneva, Shabia Mantoo, mantoo@unhcr.org, +41 79 337 7650
  • In New York, Kathryn Mahoney, mahoney@unhcr.org, +1 347 443 7646