Greek minister: 5,000 move into new refugee camp on Lesbos

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Migrants wait to enter a new temporary refugee camp in Kara Tepe, near Mytilene the capital of the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. Greek police are moving hundreds of migrants to an army-built camp on the island of Lesbos Thursday after a fire destroyed an overcrowded facility, leaving them homeless for days. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

KARA TEPE – More than 5,000 asylum seekers left homeless after Greece's notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on the island of Lesbos burnt down have now been housed in a new facility, the country's migration minister said Thursday afternoon.

Speaking on the island, Notis Mitarachi said rapid coronavirus tests found 135 of the former residents of Moria positive for the coronavirus, and these people were being kept "in special areas where they receive the appropriate medical conditions."

More than 12,000 people had been sleeping rough by a roadside since the squalid Moria camp burnt down last week. Authorities said the fires were set deliberately by a small group of migrants angered by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions imposed after an outbreak in the camp. Six Afghans, including two minors, have been arrested on suspicion of arson.

Police launched an operation Thursday morning to persuade people to move from the roadside into the new camp in the island's Kara Tepe area. The operation included 70 female police officers and no violence was reported.

“As long as it is peaceful, we believe it is a good move,” said Astrid Castelein, head of the U.N. Refugee Agency’s office on Lesbos. “Here on the street it is a risk for security, for public health, and it’s not dignity which we need for everyone.”

The new site consists of large family tents erected in an old army firing range by the sea. By late Wednesday, it had a capacity of around 8,000 people, according to the UNHCR.

New arrivals are tested for COVID-19, registered and assigned a tent.

“This is an operation for the protection of public health and with a clear humanitarian mission,” the police said in a statement.