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Greece sends warship to house refugees amid big freeze

Footage claims to show UNHCR tents covered in snow despite minister's claim that 'no refugees are living in the cold any more'
A man enters his tent during snowfall at Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos (AFP)

The Greek navy is sending a warship to house stranded asylum seekers, as freezing temperatures on its islands leave families living in snow-covered tents.

The Jason Class landing ship, which is usually equipped with cannons and used to transport army tanks, will arrive at the Greek island of Lesvos on Wednesday afternoon.

The ship is carrying enough equipment for 500 people, including mattresses, beds and stoves.

Around 1,000 asylum seekers are currently thought to be living in tents at Moria camp on the island of Lesvos, as night-time temperatures in some parts of Greece drop as low as -5C.

The decision to send the ship was taken following communication between defence minister Panon Kammenos, prime minister Alexis Tsipras and migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas.

Mouzalas had announced last week that there were “no refugees or migrants living in the cold anymore”.

However, footage released by activists on Monday claimed to show the situation in Moria, with UNHCR tents blanketed in snow.

Following the release of the footage, migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas attempted to visit Lesvos on Tuesday to assess conditions on the island, but his plane was twice unable to land due to bad weather conditions.

The European Commission on Tuesday called the situation on the Greek islands “untenable”, but stressed that conditions in the reception centres are the responsibility of the Greek government alone.

Countries across Europe closed their borders last year, leaving thousands of people stranded in Greece as they wait to have their asylum claims processed.

The Greek government is currently attempting to move people on Lesvos from tents to hotel rooms, and on Monday oversaw the transfer of 75 asylum seekers to private accommodation.

However, it has faced obstacles from the local Hotel Association, which has recommended that its members refuse to rent out rooms to asylum seekers.