We will continue to see such disasters

We will continue to see such disasters

The new EU migration pact includes more camps like Moria, even though they are at the heart of a failed policy. That needs to change. A guest post.

Tarpaulins and camping tents are initially replacing the tents in which the many refugees lived in the completely overcrowded Moria camp.

© Photo: Socrates Baltagiannis / dpa
Tarpaulins and camping tents are initially replacing the tents in which the many refugees lived in the completely overcrowded Moria camp.

Manos Moschopoulos is Director for Migration and Inclusion in Europe at the Open Society Foundations

Even by the bleak standards of the Greek reception system, the fire in the Moria refugee camp is one unprecedented humanitarian disaster. A disaster that was predictable.

With the aim of maintaining the EU-Turkey agreement, the Greek governments have prevented refugees from continuing their journey in recent years. As a result, facilities on the Greek islands are extremely overcrowded. The Moria camp, which was designed for fewer than 3,000 people, housed an estimated 13,000 people, perhaps more. Additional Covid-19 restrictions meant people were stranded in dire and dangerous conditions.

It is still unclear how the fire started. In fact, more fires broke out last night. We may not know who lit the flame, but we know the causes: a dirty warehouse with more than four times as many people as it can safely hold; a native population bearing the burden of deadly ineffective EU policies; legitimate concerns about Covid-19 in the camp and on the island; and a toxic cocktail of nationalism, conspiracy and scare tactics. All it took was a match.

At the moment, the top priority is to provide shelter, food and water for an estimated more than 10,000 homeless refugees. The Greek government seems to believe it will be able to rehabilitate Moria by cleaning up the charred remains of the existing structures and putting up tents.

She is ruling out the relocation of refugees to the mainland as she fears that it will spread Covid-19. Locals on the island today put up road blocks to prevent rebuilding. Your resistance is understandable; they have been promised for years that they will find a solution to the situation.

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It is likely that most refugees will remain homeless for long periods of time and sleep on the streets and sidewalks, as most did the previous night. Worryingly, the government appeared to downplay the number of people in need, claiming that only 3,500 refugees were left homeless by the fire. And that despite their own officials claiming that at least 8,000 homes in Moria have been destroyed.

The existing tensions between locals, migrants and NGOs on the island have increased in the past months and days due to the Covid-19 cases within Moria. These tensions are likely to intensify in the days ahead as the government adopts – or even intensifies – malicious representations in an attempt to shift the blame on to others.

Many have pointed out how happy it is that no one was killed in the fire. Yet Moria has been killing people for years. Self-harm and suicide are common; a baby died of dehydration last year; Knife wounds, attacks, open sewage, inadequate medical care are the order of the day. Dozens died in Moria.

There will be more such disasters

Yet one wonders if there had been deaths from this dramatic fire, would the political response be stronger? Would Europe stagger forward, like after Aylan Kurdi, the boy who washed up on the Turkish coast five years ago, with the screams for “never again”? Is this the grotesque price it takes to act?

If the current asylum system remains unchanged, we will continue to experience disasters like this one. It doesn’t have to be like that. First we have to close these camps. The new EU migration pact includes even more camps like Moria, despite all indications that they are at the core of a failed policy.

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Not only do these camps fail to comply with our human rights standards, which undermines the EU’s humanitarian position, but they also cannot deter people who are desperate to flee war and poverty. The Greek government had declared that it would turn the camps into prisons, which would pose an even greater danger to those seeking refuge in Europe.

Cities and regions across Europe have offered to resettle refugees from the camps. In Germany the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has agreed to accept 1,000 refugees displaced by the fire. There are others like Brandenburg, Thuringia and Berlin. This was preceded by a long nationwide campaign by the municipalities to accept refugees from the Greek islands, a proposal that has so far been blocked by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, which has to give the green light for every resettlement.

The atmosphere in Greece will become even more toxic

More voices should join those who call on German and other governments to allow humanitarian aid. Cities outside Germany have also offered to take in refugees and asylum seekers from Greece – in particular around 119 Dutch municipalities. The desire and the infrastructure for an evacuation are in place; they just need to be expanded and made permanent through a resettlement program.

Without appropriate EU action, I also fear what will happen to my own country, Greece. The political atmosphere is already deeply toxic. Yesterday, when the first fire was still burning, officials from the Ministry of Migration Policy informed journalists that “foreign NGOs” were responsible for the fire. The government spokesman then claimed the fire was not an accident and refused to rule out Turkey’s involvement. I fear that the chance for a consensus and for a sensible policy is disappearing. Some now call Greece the Hungary of the Mediterranean. If the EU cannot agree on asylum policy, it may be able to agree that one Hungarian in the EU is completely sufficient.

Video: Fire in Moria – Europe is looking for solutions (Euronews)

Fire in Moria – Europe is looking for solutions

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