Wednesday, October 7, 2020 — One month after fires destroyed Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, and despite promises from European leaders that there would be “no more Morias,” more than 8,500 people are trapped in inhumane conditions in a newly built camp on the island. Thousands more, including 7,000 children, continue to live in undignified and unsafe conditions in camps across the Aegean islands.
The new camp on Lesbos evokes the misery and suffering of Moria camp: men, women and children sleep in tents, food is distributed just once a day and there is no running water. Parents wash themselves and their children in the sea; there are some chemical toilets but they are severely limited in number.
The new camp was hastily constructed on a former shooting range next to the sea and is exposed to the elements; it is unlikely to withstand the heavy rain and storms of approaching winter. Its construction took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet preventative measures such as social distancing are impossible for the camp’s residents.
Meanwhile, people living in the other EU reception centres on the islands of Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros are similarly trapped in inhumane and overcrowded conditions. On Kos, new arrivals have been automatically detained since January. On Samos, 4,314 people are living in and around a site built to accommodate just 648 people, while 90 of its residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Yet no adequate medical response plan is in place.
More than half a million people have signed petitions calling on European leaders to evacuate people trapped on the Greek islands and to end the containment policies that have caused a cycle of suffering and abuse. The European Commission’s new Migration Pact, presented two weeks ago and today under discussion at the Justice and Home Affairs Council, fails to engage with these demands and instead reaffirms the commitment of European governments and institutions to the very policies that precipitated the fires that destroyed Moria.
There is nothing in the Migration Pact to indicate that the inhumane model of containment that created this emergency has been called into question. Instead it appears to entrench those very policies that have caused years of human suffering across the Greek islands. It mirrors the failed European approach to trap people on the Aegean islands, expands mandatory border procedures, and is openly geared towards deterrence and return rather than humane reception and protection.
Vickie Hawkins, Executive Director of MSF UK said "Enough is enough. We reiterate our call to urgently decongest the islands and bring people to safe and dignified accommodation, with a focus on relocation across Europe.
"So far, the UK government has done the absolute minimum on this front, while actively shutting down some of the few existing routes to safety for refugees and asylum seekers within Europe. Despite it’s assurances that ‘protecting vulnerable children remains a priority’, it has not yet taken in any children caught up in the fire. We therefore ask the UK government to urgently assume their responsibilities, including enshrining into law their commitment to legal pathways for those seeking sanctuary through the Immigration Bill.
"The UK and Europe's leaders must immediately stop the inhumane containment of people on the Greek islands and abandon the proposals to entrench border facilities across Europe. No more means no more."
Since the fires that destroyed Moria camp, several petitions have been initiated that reiterate similar demands. Together they have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures (including by the coalition mentioned above, SeeBrücke, Amnesty International). Moreover, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous petitions have been calling for urgent decongestion of the Greek islands and relocation across Europe (including by Leave NoOne Behind, SOS Moria, Europe Must Act, Evakuieren Jetzt)