Briefing on the situation in Moria camp after the recent developments
Just after midnight, on September 8 the fire broke out at Moira camp and destroyed the biggest camp in Europe. New blazes continue to hit facilities while thousands of people are forced to sleep under improvised shelters in surrounding areas.
On Wednesday 9 September, the Greek government placed the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos in a state of emergency, allowing it to mobilise all forces to support the island and asylum seekers, a government official said. The state of emergency will remain in place for the next four months. The decision came after an emergency ministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to decide how to tackle the aftermath of the blaze. The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear. Authorities were investigating whether there was arson.
Moria had been in lockdown since September 2, after one resident tested positive for coronavirus. Another 35 people have since been infected. The persons who were tested positive refused to go to isolation in awful warehouses together with their families. The Greek government put the whole camp under quarantine, even though such a measure cannot be implemented in the camp in full respect of people’s basic rights, owing to the living conditions of the thousands of residents exposed to the outbreak. Due to the phenomenon of overcrowded population, conflicts took place among refugees concerning the issue of isolation. Additional police forces have been sent to the island to prevent fleeing migrants from reaching the town of Mytilene.
Humanitarian crisis in the Moria
Restricting thousands of women, men and children in severely overcrowded camps, where living conditions are unacceptable, made it impossible to isolate people exposed to COVID-19 or to comply with minimum preventive and protective measures, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) had pointed out. The risk of health crisis, camouflaged by the restrictions of local authorities, was just extended in time.
Already much earlier, before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak put the functioning of the Moria camp under the question, human rights and civic NGOs notoriously alarmed about worsening life-threatening conditions in the camp as soon as its capacities got extremely exceeded. The Moria encampment extended out of the main UN camp into olive groves where thousands lived in makeshift wooden huts they built out of wooden pellets and tarpaulin, hammered down with nails. The inhabitants used to say they were waiting for hours to use a bathroom, and sometimes used to spend an entire day queuing for food. Human rights and civic NOGs notoriously criticised the insufficient system that made it impossible to provide emergency help or basic medical assistance to the residents. The COVID-19 outbreak only deepened the crisis the and sped up devastating clash of insufficient policies and humanitarian tragedy.
Moria camp’s fire
On September 8 the fire destroyed the Moria camp. Despite the ongoing rescue operations new blazes sweep through the area. The cause of the fires remains unknown. Local media reports suggested the fires may have been started deliberately to protest lockdown measures imposed on the camp earlier this week. Health authorities said some of the migrants who had been placed in isolation were living in a separate site not affected by the fire. Government spokesperson Simon Petsas said that arson was being considered as a possible cause.
Over 13,000 people homeless
As Amnesty International emphasised, there is a humanitarian emergency right now in Lesvos. Overnight, almost 13,000 people in Moria refugee camp lost the scant shelter and sanitation that they had. People living there have already endured leaving their lives, homes, and possessions when fleeing to Europe. Now, this fire has likely destroyed anything they had left, including essential documents, personal items and medicines. Documentation concerning individual's claims and asylum procedures had been also destroyed, what means that people lost months, if not years, in limbo and all procedures should be renewed.
Stepping up relocation efforts and transferring people to safer accommodation is now even more urgent than ever. All the opposition parties stated that refugees and asylum-seekers should be relocated to the mainland and from there to the European countries under the observance of health protocols.
The government announced that a small part of the refugee population would continue to live in the camp of Moria, whereas the vast majority would be relocated in two other places that used to be military camps but they have no facility at all for the moment. In the meantime three big boats were sent from Athens in order to provide temporary housing for 3000 persons.
Human rights organizations have urged Athens to transfer migrants from overcrowded centres on Greek islands to mainland centres, which are considered far less crowded. However, unfortunately, the Greek government does not agree with the solution of mainland centres because local communities all over Greece have expressed its negative attitude towards housing of refugees and also because - according to the Greek government - Turkey will not accept to receive refugees from mainland who do not live anymore in hot spots of islands near the borders.
ANTIGONE Information and Documentation Centre on
Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non Violence
NIEM’s National Advocacy Officer
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs