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Thousands of homeless migrants protest after refugee camp burns down

Thousands of homeless migrants took to the streets to demand action after a series of fires tore through Greece’s largest refugee camp.

The protesters gathered on a road leading to the main town in the island of Lesbos after the overcrowded Moria camp was destroyed.

The protest was peaceful with the group chanting songs and clapping while many held up signs pleading for help from the EU and Germany in particular.

The Greek army has begun setting up replacement accommodation, but former Moria residents oppose the reconstruction and are demanding more permanent housing.

Around 12,000 people, including women and children, have been left sleeping on the streets after fires tore through the camp on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Greek officials said the flames were started deliberately by some of the camp’s residents because they were angry about isolation orders imposed after 35 people tested positive for coronavirus. 

After the camp was burnt down some cut down reeds and used salvaged blankets to create makeshift shelters to protect them from the scorching sun, while others used tents or sleeping bags. 

Former camp resident Freddy Musamba, from Gambia, said: ‘We have spent three days here without eating, without drinking. We are in conditions that are really, really not very good. 

‘I want to speak about the European Union who abandoned us, who left us here like this.’

He called for the EU ‘to come and support us, to not leave us’.

Greek authorities have only allowed the 406 unaccompanied teenagers and children who had been living at the camp to leave the island. They were flown to the Greek mainland on Wednesday night and have been temporarily housed in hotels and other facilities.

Aid organisations have long warned about the dire conditions in the overcrowded camp.

 Moria has a capacity of just over 2,750 people but was housing more than 12,500 inside and in a spillover tent ‘city’ that sprang up in a nearby olive grove.

There is constant tension both among migrants and refugees inside the camp and with local residents who have long called for Moria to be shut down.

The camp houses people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Many arrive on the island from the nearby Turkish coast after fleeing poverty or conflict in their homeland. 

Under a 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey, those arriving on Greek islands are supposed to remain there pending either their successful asylum application or deportation.

But a backlog in asylum applications, constant new arrivals and few deportations has left the camp desperately overcrowded. 

European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas, who also handles migration for the 27-nation bloc, said: ‘Moria is a sharp reminder to all of us for what we need to change in Europe.

‘The clock has run out on how long Europe can live without a migration policy.’

He said the EU’s executive commission plans to present a new ‘pact for migration and asylum’.

On Thursday French President Emanuel Macron announced that France and Germany were in talks to take in some of the children who had been living in Moria.

German interior minister Horst Seehofer said that 10 EU countries had agreed to take in some of the unaccompanied children from Moria and that talks were ongoing with others.

He said Germany and France would take ‘about two thirds’ of the 406 minors who had been living at the camp without parents or guardians.

Other countries that will help take them in include Finland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Croatia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland.

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