Moria – Built to Burn

The fire that destroyed the Moria refugee camp last week is an indictment of the policies that herded 13,000 desperate asylum seekers into a former detention centre designed to hold 3,000, United Against Inhumanity said today. This was not the first fire in Moria, a cesspit of misery and deprivation, where aid workers have long decried the inhuman conditions.  Concerned actors have, for years, called on Europe to address the deplorable situation that was, clearly, a disaster waiting to happen, the international advocacy organization said.

Already in May 2016, the medical organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) temporarily interrupted their work in Moria in protest after several appeals to and negotiations with the authorities did not lead to any improvement of the conditions in the center. In July 2020 MSF was forced to close their COVID-19 isolation centre in Moria after local authorities imposed fines with potential criminal charges related to urban planning regulations. The isolation centre was the only place on Lesbos able to provide medical isolation and care for people from Moria with COVID-19 symptoms.

Talk of reconstructing Moria, or similar such centres, ignores the failure of deterrence policies that, time and again, have proved to be deadly and disastrous. Given the precarious and life-threatening situation for the civilian population in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, Libya and many other countries, the number of refugees is unlikely to decrease in the near future . This makes flight and displacement one of the most serious challenges of our time. Europe currently only takes in a fraction of the world’s displaced people which according to UNHCR now make up 1% of the world population (almost 80 Million people). About 80% are hosted in countries which are affected by acute food insecurity and malnutrition.  In comparison, UNHCR recorded under 50,000 arrivals of asylum seekers in Europe since the beginning of 2020 (as of September 7), while around 500 are believed dead and/or missing.

UAI calls on EU governments to immediately cease and desist from its pursuit of deterrence measures that restrict or make impossible the right to seek asylum; such policies run counter to basic principles of humanity and the 1951 Refugee Convention that obliges all EU signatories to deliver on their international protection responsibilities. The EU must put in place measures that ensure the availability of safe and legal ways to request asylum and a fair hearing for all asylum seekers. Likewise, continued opposition to responsibility-sharing by populist parties and anti-migrant groups should not prevent states, municipalities, cities, and individuals from taking action to assist all those in need of refuge in Lesvos and elsewhere.

Unless and until we switch gear, the EU will continue to spend billions of Euros incarcerating children and their families in hellish conditions that will fuel the next conflagration.

Featured Image: Anjo Kan / Shutterstock.com