Thousands of refugees and migrants left homeless on Lesbos by huge fires that destroyed their camp will not be evacuated from the island because the blazes were deliberately started, the Greek government said on Thursday.
Greek officials and senior fire fighters claim the fires started in several different places at the same time and were deliberately lit by migrants protesting against the implementation of quarantine measures after around 35 of them tested positive for Covid-19.
Stelios Petsas, the Greek government spokesman, said the asylum seekers who set the fires “did so because they considered that if they torch Moria, they will indiscriminately leave the island. We tell them they did not understand. They will not leave because of the fire. Some people do not respect the country that is hosting them.”
The announcement appeared to dash the hopes of charities and NGOs who are calling for the closure of the devastated Moria camp and the immediate transfer of all 12,500 asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and eventual settlement in EU countries.
Watch: Thousands of migrants sleep rough for third night in a row after Moria camp fire
Humanitarian organisations say that with the camp burned to the ground, and islanders fiercely opposed to the building of a new facility, the only option is to move the migrants and refugees off Lesbos.
Medecins Sans Frontieres called on the Greek authorities to “evacuate all these people to a safe place on the mainland or to other European countries.”
Refugees International said the Greek government should transfer people to the mainland, after which “EU member states must step up to relocate the asylum seekers.”
But Mr Petsas, the government spokesman, said the only migrants who would be allowed to leave were 400 unaccompanied children and teenagers who have been flown to Thessaloniki in northern Greece.
France and Germany put forward a proposal for the 400 minors to be shared around EU member states.
“We want to show solidarity with Greece that lives up to European values," said Emmanuel Macron, the French president.
But so far there appears to be little appetite among EU member states to take in the newly homeless migrants.
The Netherlands and Austria have ruled out taking any of those affected, and their plight is threatening to create a new divide within the bloc.
Thousands were expected to sleep out in the open air for a third night, lying on the bare ground or pitching tents they had managed to salvage. The government said it would take days to find them new accommodation.
“Our home burned, my shoes burned, we don't have food, no water,” Valencia, an eight-year-old Congolese girl, told reporters.
Both she and her mother Natzy Malala, 30, who has a newborn infant, slept on the side of the road.
"There is no food, no milk for the baby," Ms Malala said.
"We've lost everything, we were abandoned, without food, water or medicine," said Fatma Al-Hani, a Syrian woman.
In Germany, Mrs Merkel was facing a split within her government even as she sought to negotiate an EU solution.
Senior rebels, including a cabinet minister and one of the contenders to succeed her as chancellor next year, broke ranks to demand Germany take unilateral action without waiting for its EU partners.
“The terrible fire has worsened an already catastrophic situation in Moria,” 16 MPs from Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) warned in an open letter.
“The priority now is not to shape a common European refugee policy, but to alleviate human hardship. We ask that Germany take in 5,000 refugees from Greece, if possible with other EU states, if necessary alone.”
Signatories to the letter included Norbert Röttgen, a contender to succeed Mrs Merkel as chancellor next year.
Separately, Gerd Müller, the development minister, called for Germany to take in 2,000 of those affected by the fire as a “sign of humanity”.
Thousands of Germans have taken to the streets to call for action to help the migrants, and several regions have already offered to take in some of those affected.
But so far, the move has been blocked by Mrs Merkel’s government as she presses for a common EU solution.
A ferry was sent to the island to accommodate hundreds of migrants, while others will stay on two Greek navy boats.
“All necessary action will be taken to shelter families and vulnerable persons to begin with,” the migration ministry said.
More police reinforcements were sent to Lesbos, including riot police units.
After big blazes on Tuesday and Wednesday nights destroyed about 90% of the camp, a third fire broke out on Thursday, burning what was left of the sprawling facility.
Local people said they were determined not to allow a new camp to be built, having put up with the old one for years.
"Now is the time to shut down Moria for good," said Vangelis Violatzis, a local municipal leader. "We don't want another camp, and we will oppose any construction work. We've faced this situation for five years, it's time for others to bear this burden,” he told AFP.
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