From lockdown to homeless: refugees in Lesbos
The greek island of Lesbos has been an essential point for refugees crossing from Turkey into the EU. Moria Camp became the largest refugee camp in Europe. It was originally constructed to host an estimate of 3,000 people but its population has grown to 20,000. The recent fire has left 13,000 people homeless, leaving Lesbos to face its worst humanitarian crisis.
Earlier in the month the greek government had put the camp in lockdown due to a Covid-19 outbreak. The government has failed to provide sufficient medical assistance since before the epidemic started. It has been reported that the fire was caused by angry protesters due to the rigid lockdown but the official investigation is still undergoing.
Refugees have been forced to sleep on the streets, building tents with any material they can get their hands on. There’s an urgent need for shelter, food and water. The BBC quoted Lesbos local saying, “We don’t want another camp, and we will oppose any construction work.” The long standing dispute with the refugee situation has led them to take this time to protest the reconstruction of the camp by blocking aid deliveries.
The refugees have taken the streets of Mytilini to protest their current situation. Meanwhile, the police have placed barriers to prevent them from moving to other parts of the island which has created an aggressive environment. Human Rights Watch reported incidents where riot police were using excessive violence to the homeless refugees.
This disaster has highlighted the importance of the EU to take action on the humanitarian crisis Lesbos has been facing for years. Protests have taken form all over Europe demanding the EU to open its borders and offer refuge to asylum seekers.
The EU agreed with 10 countries to take 400 unaccompanied minors, but this still leaves 12,600 people homeless. Rumors of deportation have surfaced, which have left many nervous since many of the asylum seekers migrated to Lesbos escaping war, acts of violence, and human trafficking.
“European leaders should share responsibility for the reception and support of asylum seekers. Also, Greek authorities should ensure that respect for human rights is at the center of its response to this fire. They should prevent the use of force or inflammatory language, take appropriate steps to de-escalate any risk of violence, and provide the care and protection that those affected by the fire need and are entitled to.” Researcher Eva Cosso wrote these sentiments for the Human Right Watch which underlines the seriousness of the next course of action by the EU.
Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President, announced the reconstruction of a new facility; recognizing how unacceptable the situacion is. The Greek government has also sent three ships to accommodate the refugees devastated by the fire. Refugees continue to protest their living situation calling attention to the horrible conditions they have been enduring for years and calling out for freedom. Hopefully the devastation will inspire the EU to reconsider their refugee policy and asylum seekers achieve the human rights they deserve.