Sep 16, 2020
Greece Struggles to Bring Migrants Into Temporary Camp After Fire
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LESBOS (Reuters) - Greek authorities were still struggling on Wednesday to move thousands of migrants sleeping rough into a temporary camp, a week after the overcrowded Moria migrant camp burned down, while fears grew over a coronavirus outbreak on the island of Lesbos.
More than 12,000 people, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation or access to food and water by the fire that tore through Moria, Greece's biggest camp for migrants reaching its islands by sea.
No one was killed or hurt in the fire, which broke out after quarantine measures were imposed following the discovery of COVID-19 cases on the site.
So far, only 1,200 people have moved into the temporarily facility at Kara Tepe near the island's port of Mytilene, which was ready to host at least 5,000.
"They are still reluctant," said a police official on condition of anonymity. "Negotiations are ongoing."
Authorities have distributed flyers and sent text messages to migrants trying to convince them to move into the new tents, officials said.
One said migrants hoped to be allowed to leave the island and believed that living conditions in the temporary camp would be no better than at Moria, which aid groups had called appalling.
People crossing the new facility entrance were being tested for COVID-19 and so far 35 were found positive. Residents were afraid a coronavirus outbreak was looming with thousands of people sleeping rough and untested.
On Tuesday, six migrants were arrested over the Moria blaze. Another blaze, which broke out overnight near another migrant camp on the island of Samos, was put under control and three people were arrested.
Greece's conservative government, which took power last year, says it aims to replace open air tented camps with formal migrant centers with temporary housing, where entry and exit would be controlled.
"The recent fires ... demonstrate the need to immediately close the chaotic open migrant and refugee reception centers and to create closed, controlled centers which will offer humane conditions with double fencing, controlled entrance systems, surveillance and fire security systems," Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told reporters in Lesbos.
The Moria inferno has put the migrant issue firmly back on the European agenda. European Union Council President Charles Michel visited Lesbos and promised more solidarity with the countries guarding Europe's borders.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said more "tangible" help was needed. Germany said it could take in up to 1,500 people stranded by the fire.
"European leaders should act quickly to bring the people stranded on Lesbos to safety," said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"They also need to fundamentally rethink the failed and inhumane policies that led to the creation of a sprawling, unsanitary and dangerous refugee camp in an EU country, rather than just building a replica of the same thing."
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Vassilis Triandafyllou on Lesbos; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Peter Graff)
Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.
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France: EU sanctions on Turkey an option over gas standoff
NICOSIA – France on Friday backed Cyprus' calls for the European Union to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey if the Turkish government won't suspend its search for energy reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive economic rights.
French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said sanctions should be among the options the 27-member bloc considers employing if Turkey continues to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state.”
“But we consider that the Union should also be ready to use all the instruments at its disposal, among them the one of sanctions, if the situation didn’t not evolve positively," Beaune said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia.
EU leaders are set to hold a summit in a few days to discuss how to respond to Turkey prospecting in areas of the sea that Greece and Cyprus insist are only theirs to explore. Turkey triggered a naval standoff with NATO ally Greece after dispatching a warship-escorted research vessel in a part of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece says is over its continental shelf. Greece deployed its own warship and naval patrols in response.
Greek and Turkish military officers are also holding talks at NATO headquarters to work out ways of ensuring that any standoff at sea doesn’t descend into open conflict.
The tensions appeared to ease in the last week, with Greek and Turkish officials having contact after Turkey temporarily pulled back the research vessel. But Ankara extended until mid-October the stay of another drill ship, Yavuz, in an area southeast of Cyprus that lies inside the island nation's exclusive economic zone.
Ship tracking website Marine Traffic showed a second Turkish research vessel, Barbaros, currently operating south of Cyprus.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey withdrew the surveying vessel, Oruc Reis, from Greece-claimed waters for maintenance to give diplomacy a chance. But he warned that the ship wasn't done working and would be back.
“As soon as the repairs and maintenance process is over, Oruc Reis will again return to its duties,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish president also said he's ready to meet with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to end the military buildup and standoff at sea, but he warned Greece against actions that could poison the negotiating climate.
“We have no problem on the issue of meeting Mitsotakis. But what will we discuss, under which framework will the discussion take place, that is important,” Erdogan said.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey's withdrawal of its survey ship and warship escorts was a positive step, but that Greece needs to make sure Ankara is sincere.
He said a list of sanctions will be put before EU leaders at next week's summit and whether they'll be implemented will depend on Turkey's actions.
“I'm hoping that it won't become necessary to reach that point," Dendias said.
Turkey doesn’t recognize ethnically divided Cyprus as a state and insists it has every right to search for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean. It has vowed to defend its rightful claims to the region’s energy reserves, as well as those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn't set a “double standard" by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud and police brutality while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members.
Beaune said the EU cannot accept Turkish actions and that France has “committed" to resolving the issue while making its military presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean in support of its EU partners.
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