Greece: Thousands left without shelter after Moria fire - what now?

Thousands of people who were living in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos have been left without shelter after a huge fire that began on Tuesday night destroyed most of the tents and buildings. Other EU member states have agreed to take in unaccompanied children who were living in Moria. The Greek government has been accused of responding with "securitisation as opposed to the provision of urgent assistance."

Some 13,000 people had been living in the camp, around four times its official capacity. It was repeatedly condemned by residents of the camp and the island, human rights groups and international organisations as unsanitary and utterly inadequate for meeting the needs of the people who were forced to live there due to a policy of containment - introduced as part of the EU-Turkey deal - that prevented them from moving to the Greek mainland until their asylum claims were processed, which can take years.

Legal Centre Lesvos, an organisation that has been operating on the island for years to assist people with their claims, said in a statement (emphasis added):

"The dehumanisation of migrants at the European border and apparent indifference to the impact of this protracted, unsustainable situation on the local population have had repeatedly devastating consequences. Migrants have been consistently confined to overcrowded, insecure and fundamentally inhuman conditions, where fires – often fatal – are a regular occurrence. This was not the first fire in Moria camp; it was not even the first fire in the camp this year. Such fatal risks to – and loss of – migrant lives are instead tolerated as part of the European border regime.

Following the near destruction of Moria Camp, this morning the Greek government placed the island of Lesvos under a four month state of emergency. The police and army have been on the streets around Moria camp since the fire broke out, and three riot police squads (known as the Units for the Reinstatement of Order) were flown in from Athens this morning. As far as we know, no additional medical capacity or humanitarian aid has been mobilised or provided. The government’s immediate dispatch of security forces, before or without humanitarian assistance, continues their policy of framing migrants as a question of public order – and prioritising their securitisation as opposed to the provision of urgent assistance."

Ten EU member states have now agreed to take in 400 unaccompanied minors who were living in the camp.  The majority will apparently go to Germany and France, according to BBC News. The same report says that:

"After visiting Moria, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas announced that the devastated camp would be replaced by a modern facility on the same site."

In fact, the Greek government had already announced plans to 'modernise' Moria - by turning it into a closed camp, along with the camp on the island of Chios.

This plan is unlikely to be welcomed by residents of the island's towns and villages. A separate BBC News report cites Vangelis Violatzis, who is described as a local municipal leader:

"Now is the time to shut down Moria for good... We don't want another camp, and we will oppose any construction work. We've faced this situation for five years, it's time for others to bear this burden."

Yesterday it was reported that "local residents, supported by the municipal authority of Mytilene" were preventing those made homeless by the fire from reaching the port, where a ferry was waiting in dock and is due to serve as temporary accommodation.

The Greek prime minister has called for genuine assistance from other EU states; Angela Merkel has said similar.

Meanwhile Ylva Johansson, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, is due to announce a new 'Pact on Migration and Asylum' at the end of this month. Her colleague Margaritas Schinas, the 'European Commissioner for Promoting our European Way of Life', has said the Pact will "put an end to this unacceptable situation". It remains to be seen whether he is correct.

A useful summary of the situation from DW (video embedded from YouTube):

After Moria: EU announces changes in asylum policy

 

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