1 year after the Moria fire: EU and Greece fail to protect asylum seekers
[07.09.2021, 07:00 CET]
For Immediate Release
On September 8th & 9th, 2020, the Moria Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) — Europe’s largest and most notorious refugee camp — an overcrowded facility welcoming around 20,000 refugees in the summer of 2020, located on the Greek island of Lesvos, burned to the ground in a devastating fire that left more than twelve thousand people displaced. Almost the whole camp was burning, an expected tragedy: “A time bomb that finally exploded” according to Marco Sandrone, Lesbos project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, interviewed by the BBC.
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson responded to the tragedy by acknowledging that Europe had to provide better reception for displaced people seeking protection, and emphasising that there should be “no more Morias”.
A resident of Ritsona Camp says: “We kept on, we struggled to survive, we kept trusting politicians… we believed in no more Moria, no more camps… Last year when Moria was burning we had hope. Now we are physically OK but burning inside.”
One year later, the situation for people seeking protection in Greece remains a humanitarian emergency. Europe Must Act is launching a campaign to share the testimonies of those directly affected by the situation, in order to reach politicians and encourage them to take a position on Europe’s failures to protect displaced people in Greece.
Despite the promises of the Greek government and the EU to have a new camp replacing the original one, and to have it built by September, works have still not begun. As a matter of fact, in December 2020 Greece announced that a permanent reception facility on Lesbos would have replaced the destroyed camp. The EU Commission claimed it would have supported the project, with a contribution of 276 million euros for the building of new camps on five Aegean Islands: Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. According to the latest UNHCR data, some 6,650 refugees and asylum seekers currently reside on the Greek Aegean Islands, a number that decreased a lot after the fire.
The strategy chosen by the EU is going toward more isolation and invisibility of the people who demand to access the right of asylum. Camps on the islands and mainland are increasingly prison-like, such as the soon to be inaugurated new camp of Samos (18th of September), supported and 100% financed by the European Union, which, in addition to be located in a remote area, has many features found in prisons: high military fences, drone surveillance, video surveillance, alarm systems, X-ray machines and metal detectors. These settings would cause a “large-scale and long-term deprivation of liberty […] which has very harmful effects on their mental health, especially on children” according to Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic.
Hossein, who also shared his testimony with Europe Must Act, declares “We just wanted to make a reminder for the ministers of the European commission that they have forgotten and they have failed. They [told] people that they are not gonna build any other camp...now all the promises are forgotten and none of them has been fulfilled by the European Commission.”
The EU and Greece are implementing policies of deterrence and containment, with new rules like the designation of Turkey as a safe country for Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh in June this year, or the denial of cash support to asylum seekers who have managed to regain some autonomy by living in private accommodation since July, in addition to the continuing occurence of pushbacks.
Cecilia Sanfelici, Aegean Advocacy Coordinator for Europe Must Act says “One year after the fire, NGOs, human rights defenders, and refugees themselves register a systematic worsening of life conditions for asylum seekers and refugees all over the Greek territory. The construction of closed camps and use of high-level technology, allegedly to protect camp residents, is further restricting refugees’ rights and freedoms. The same results from Greek laws stopping the monthly cash allowance for asylum seekers living outside of camps. ”
The hashtag #NoMoreWalls, starting on the 8th of September, will come with more insights from the ground.
Notes for Editors
Europe Must Act (EMA) is a growing grassroots movement, bringing together volunteers and NGOs to campaign for the humane, dignified and legal reception of refugees in Europe. EMA was established in March 2020 by a group of volunteers on the Greek Aegean islands of Chios and Samos in response to the ever-worsening situation of the hotspot camps. For more information about EMA, please visit www.europemustact.org/about-us.
Further comments available.
Christian Schmidt, Press Coordinator, Europe Must Act
Credits: Cover Image, Kirsty Evans