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Regional Bureau for Europe: Greece Update #15 Lesvos (16 February 2021)

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is supporting the Government-led response after a series of fires destroyed the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria (Lesvos) in September 2020. UNHCR has scaled up its support for all asylum-seekers affected and urges for comprehensive and humane solutions to address difficult living conditions on Greek islands.

In September 2020, a series of fires ravaged the Moria Reception and Identification Centre, leaving 12,000 people homeless. The authorities have set up the Mavrovouni site to host those affected and, as of 7 February 2021, nearly 6,900 asylum-seekers and refugees, the majority women and children, are sheltered in the site.

Many others, including unaccompanied children, were in the meantime transferred to alternative accommodation.
The Greek authorities lead the response with the support of UN agencies, including UNHCR, as well as international and national NGOs and volunteer groups.

The Government has been preparing the Mavrovouni site for winds, rain and cold temperatures expected in mid-February. UNHCR and humanitarian partners are assisting authorities in identifying tents that need reinforcement, replacement or plastic tarpaulins to help protect against the severe weather. The authorities have cleared space in prefabricated structures should camp residents need emergency shelter.

UNHCR continues to advocate with authorities to make more spaces available for protective, temporary accommodation, and for further transfers to the mainland where conditions are better overall, as well as relocation to other EU States. In a positive development, some 400 asylum-seekers and refugees were transferred from Lesvos to the mainland in the past fortnight, including some to accommodation provided through the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation programme (ESTIA) and others for relocation. On 10 February, 59 vulnerable asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children were relocated from Greece to France through the concerted efforts of UNHCR and IOM, under the leadership of the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum and with the support of the European Commission. As of 10 February, 2,376 recognized refugees and vulnerable asylumseekers have been relocated from Greece since the Moria fires.

In a tragedy at sea, a child went missing on 6 February when a boat carrying 30 people overturned near the coast of Lesvos. The authorities launched a search and rescue operation and transferred the survivors to the quarantine area of the Municipal Accommodation Centre of Kara Tepe. UNHCR liaised with on-site partners for the provision of accommodation and psychosocial care to the mother of the child. Such incidents tragically illustrate the risks that refugees are willing to take to reach safety. In January 2021, authorities recorded 138 new arrivals in Lesvos, down from some 180 in December 2020.

An earthquake of magnitude 5 on the Richter scale and several aftershocks rattled Lesvos on 1 February with no damages or injuries reported on the island.