A child sleeps rough, exposed to the elements

Lesbos on edge as locals and migrants live in fear


On the Greek island of Lesbos, locals and asylum seekers spoke of their mutual fear as exasperation and exhaustion set in on Monday after the destruction of the Moria migrant camp.

Families, children, young men and pregnant women have been left wandering aimlessly since a blaze ripped through the camp on the night of September 8-9, forcing its 12,000 occupants to sleep rough in abandoned buildings, on roadsides and even rooftops.

Authorities are erecting a new camp of white tents in haste near the eastern port-village of Panagiouda, but many refuse to go there, fearing they will   just be forgotten there, as they were at Moria, Europe's biggest migrant camp.

And residents nearby look on with a wary eye, calling on Europe to lend a helping hand.

"We're afraid. 90 percent of the people here are against the new camp, and all of us we want them to leave the island," says Savvas Afentoulis, 70, sitting at a cafe in Panagiouda.

"Greece can't handle alone the situation, the EU has to find a solution.

"All of them came here, in Greece, but the other countries have to help and take a number of them".

Afentoulis was quick to point out this was not always the case in Lesbos, the main port of entry for arrivals in EU member state Greece because of its close proximity to Turkey.

At the height of the migrant crisis that kicked off in 2015, Lesbos saw hundreds of thousands of people arrive, many of them Syrians fleeing war, and residents had united in solidarity to help them.

"But after, when Moria got full with people, they started to steal our sheep, and made damages," he said.

Not far off, four young Somalis who dream of going to France or Germany hope to be allowed into the new camp. They too are scared.

"If we go there we are killed," says Ahmed, 18, showing the road where thousands of refugees are sleeping rough.

"If we go there, we are killed," he says again, this time pointing to the nearby village and simulating his throat being cut with his hand.

"Here, safety."

But they're not sure if they will be let in as the new camp prioritises families.

Just as they're speaking, three people including a pregnant woman enter the site where some 500 asylum seekers have settled since Sunday evening.

'Tension and anxiety'

For some migrants, though, the street is more attractive than the camp itself, which occupants won't be able to leave as they please due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Greece's migrations minister, some 200 migrants may be contaminated.

Several European countries have signed up to a scheme to host unaccompanied minors from the destroyed Moria camp.

But that's around 400 people, a drop in the ocean.

Germany said Monday it was mulling taking in more migrants, possibly families with children.

In Lesbos meanwhile, incidents between migrants and locals have been frequent on the island since last year.

"This situation, here, it's a disaster for local people," Vassilis Kiosia said in Panagiouda.

The 35-year-old local who himself migrated from Albania said he understood the plight of the asylum seekers but couldn't see a solution.

"There is no job," he said.

Stratis Kytelis, the mayor of Lesbos capital Mytilene, stressed the Greek government knows that the local population is against keeping the migrants there.

Moria itself had been severely criticised by locals and rights organisations alike for its lack of hygiene and over-population.

It is now gone, but "the tension and anxiety with all these people on the streets" continues, Kytelis said.