GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - U.N. officials say they are erecting temporary shelters at lightning speed to accommodate thousands of refugees and migrants left homeless by the fire that destroyed the Moria Reception Center on the Greek Island of Lesbos last week.
Asylum seekers are sleeping in makeshift shelters or out in the open, in fields, groves and parking lots.
The U.N. agencies say they are working at top speed and expect to have enough emergency shelters set up soon to protect the more than 12,000 refugees and migrants who were forced to flee their flaming camp.
The U.N. refugee agency’s representative in Greece, Philippe Leclerc, said his agency is providing hundreds of tents and distributing basic relief, including blankets, sleeping bags, mats and other items to cover people’s essential needs.
“We have also provided chemical toilets and hand washing stations and are ready to provide additional water, hygiene and sanitation support that may be required. To prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 asylum seekers are undergoing rapid COVID-19 tests," he said.
Leclerc said 20 people have tested positive and now are quarantined in a special isolation area. He said the Hellenic Army and non-governmental organizations are providing food and water to the asylum seekers.
The U.N. children’s fund reports 3,800 children are among those affected by the fire at the Moria Reception center. It says it is caring for more than 400 unaccompanied minors. UNICEF notes there are enough emergency shelters to accommodate the children and their families, only 800 individuals have agreed to stay there.
UNICEF representative in Greece, Luciano Calestini, said the circulation of false information and rumors is discouraging the refugees and migrants from moving to the new site.
“The rumors pertain to the camp becoming another place of lockdown with very little access to leave. So, potential residents are expressing a fear that once they enter it will be another situation of being in a protracted displacement and dislocation,” he said.
U.N. agencies are calling for long-term solutions to this untenable situation. The European Union has announced it will release its new Pact on Migration and Asylum next week.
Agencies say they are looking for concrete action and hope the pact will translate into better protection for refugees and ensure a more manageable and fairer common European asylum system.