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Regional Bureau for Europe: Greece Update #16 Lesvos (17 February - 7 March 2021)

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is supporting the Government-led response after a series of fires destroyed the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria (Lesvos) in September 2020.

UNHCR has scaled up its support for all asylum-seekers affected and urges for comprehensive and humane solutions to address difficult living conditions on Greek islands.

BACKGROUND

In September 2020, a series of fires ravaged the Moria Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), leaving 12,000 people homeless. The authorities have set up the Mavrovouni site to host those affected and nearly 6,900 asylum-seekers and refugees, the majority women and children, are currently sheltered in the site. Many others, including unaccompanied children, were in the meantime transferred to alternative accommodation.

The Greek authorities lead the response with the support of UN agencies, including UNHCR, as well as international and national NGOs and volunteer groups.

IN BRIEF

According to the authorities, there have been no new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Mavrovouni site since 25 December, and there are no people quarantined there as of 7 March.
Thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers living in tents or makeshift shelters on the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos had to endure freezing temperatures and winds, as another cold spell swept across Greece from 14 to 18 February. Humanitarian organizations helped the Greek authorities to prepare for the cold weather, but more support is needed to address the overall difficult conditions faced by site residents, such as appropriate shelter for all, transfers to the mainland where conditions are overall better and relocation to other European Union (EU) States.

The first direct relocation from Lesvos to another EU Member State without transfers via mainland took place as part of the EU relocation programme, with 116 refugees arriving in Germany on 17 February. In addition, on 3 March, 35 vulnerable asylumseekers arrived from Greece in Norway, in the first relocation to that country as part of the programme, which is led by the Government of Greece with participating EU Member States and is coordinated by the European Commission. UNHCR is working with UN partners IOM and UNICEF to support all aspects of the relocation process in cooperation with the European Asylum Support Office and other partners. As of 3 March, 2,968 refugees and vulnerable asylum-seekers had been relocated from Greece, including 634 unaccompanied children.

On 21 February, a 26-year-old pregnant woman and mother of three set her tent on fire at the Mavrovouni site in what seems to have been an act of despair after hearing rumours that her family’s relocation from the camp was being postponed. The fire was swiftly put out and the woman was hospitalized with light burns. She faces charges of arson and destruction of public property and is receiving legal aid from NGOs. UNHCR is monitoring the case. A few days earlier, on 19 February, another small fire destroyed four tents. The cause of that fire is yet unknown. UNHCR replaced all affected tents.