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Greek riot police fire tear gas at Lesbos migrants

Kate Martyr | Timothy Jones
September 12, 2020

Migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos are angry about conditions after a catastrophic fire ripped through a large camp set up to house them. Riot police responded with tear gas after some protesters threw stones.

Refugees and migrants from the destroyed camp of Moria throw back tear gas fired by riot police
Image: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis

Greek riot police fired tear gas at protesting asylum seekers on Lesbos island on Saturday as tensions simmered following a huge blaze that ripped through Europe's largest migrant camp this week.

Thousands of migrants have been sleeping rough on Lesbos since Wednesday when the Moria camp and thousands of homes were destroyed. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Clashes occurred on Saturday near a new temporary camp built by Greek authorities where hundreds of young men gathered to protest. Some threw stones at riot police who responded with tear gas.

A fire set there earlier in the day near a police blockade had to be extinguished by the fire brigade.

Read more: Moria refugee camp tragedy rekindles political controversy in Germany

'Moria was hell'

DW's Alexandra van Nahmen described the scene after the police intervention as grim and tense.

"People we spoke with are very angry and frustrated and upset about the use of tear gas," she said, adding that three witnesses had said the tear gas was used after police tried to detain three leaders of the Afghan community at the camp. 

She said people at the camp were becoming more and more impatient at their situation, saying "Moria was hell" and that they wanted to leave, as the Greek government could not take care of them properly. Local authorities did not seem to be doing much to supply provisions, she said, speaking of "chaotic and very dramatic scenes" when trucks with water did arrive. One man broke his arm as people jostled for bottles of water, according to van Nahmen.

'Only a first step'

German Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been chosen as the Social Democrats' candidate to run for the chancellorship at Germany's next general elections, has meanwhile said Germany should take in more migrants from Moria than the government has proposed.

He said the willingness of 10 European states to take in just 400 unaccompanied minors could be only a first step in view of the situation.

Scholz said Germany should act alone if necessary, while admitting it would be good if other countries joined in. "The fact that we are ready in any case to do something is, I believe, demanded by our humanitarian reason," he said.

UN call to help

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has previously said Germany would take in just 100 to 150 unaccompanied minor migrants from Moria.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on EU members to take in all the migrants from Lesbos. "In my opinion, the only solution is transferring these refugees to the continent, and I hope there will be European solidarity," he told French channel TV5monde in an interview broadcast on Saturday.

Some 12,000 migrants had been living in the Moria camp before the fires. The camp was originally meant to accommodate just 3,000 people.

A new temporary site with capacity for 3,000 people was to open on Saturday at a location a few kilometers (miles) from Moria, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said.

Moria migrants call for freedom

Kate Martyr Editor and video producer at DW's Asia Desk and News Digital