With an estimated 11,000 asylum seekers without adequate shelter on the Greek Island of Lesvos after the Moria Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) burned down last week, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is stepping up its support to respond to critical and immediate needs.
Greek authorities, who hold overall responsibility for the management and coordination of the humanitarian response, have now identified a location on Lesvos, close to Mytilene town, in the area of Kara Tepe, to temporarily house the most vulnerable children, men and women who were made homeless in a series of blazes beginning Tuesday last week.
At the request of the government and to respond to urgent humanitarian needs, UNHCR is assisting in the setup of this new temporary tented facility to accommodate those most at risk and providing technical advice and sharing expertise regarding site setup and planning.
Site planning and works are currently underway, including gravelling. So far, UNHCR has provided 600 family tents, which are already accommodating some 700 as of yesterday evening. We have also provided chemical toilets and handwashing 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 testing, by the national health authorities, before entering the new facility.
UNHCR is also supporting the national health authorities in establishing a medical area in the new site, in accordance with WHO guidance, providing three tents, installing a Rubb hall and fencing to serve as isolation areas. Already functional, 20 people confirmed with COVID are now quarantining in this isolation area.
Since last week, the Hellenic Army has been providing food and water for asylum seekers, including at this new site. To support efforts, UNHCR has shipped to Lesvos more than 6,000 dry food packages. At the request of national authorities and with the support of the European Commission, UNHCR has also provided a one-off emergency top-up of cash assistance valued at 50 per cent of the regular monthly amount, to cover urgent needs of those affected.
In cooperation with partners, we are also distributing core relief items, including blankets, sleeping bags, mats, jerrycans, plastic sheet and hygiene items to cover the essential needs for up to 12,000 people.
UNHCR teams and national humanitarian partners are also continuing efforts to identify and assist vulnerable asylum seekers including families with young children and single women, informing them that they can now seek shelter at the new temporary site. Some 50 women and gender-based violence survivors have already been transferred to a safe shelter on the island.
Once vulnerable asylum seekers are gradually transferred to this new site, it is important to promptly initiate, for those authorized to leave, the processes for their safe and orderly transfer to the mainland, in suitable accommodation.
Support to the temporary facility is an emergency measure to provide immediate shelter and protection to asylum seekers who are otherwise sleeping rough in makeshift shelters or out in the open, in fields, groves and parking lots for the seventh night in a row. UNHCR is also advocating for long-term solutions, with continuous European support and responsibility-sharing.
Overcrowded reception centres in Lesvos and other Aegean Islands must be decongested and their conditions improved.
The European Commission has announced that it will advance the release of its new Pact on Migration and Asylum to 23 September as a result, in part, of recent events in Lesvos and the urgency it poses for a collective response in Europe.
UNHCR views the forthcoming Pact on Migration and Asylum as a potential fresh start for the EU and its Member States to better protect refugees and ensure a more manageable Common European Asylum System, based on fair and efficient asylum procedures, solidarity and responsibility-sharing among states. It is hoped that this opportunity will be seized.
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