Lesvos migrants wanted to leave after a fire in Moria, but that chance seems slim

A week after the devastating fire in Camp Moria, thousands of migrants are camping in tents along the road, local residents are demonstrating against the arrival of a new reception camp and the Greek authorities are planning to send people to a temporary camp by force if necessary. A structural solution does not seem to be in sight. The migrants, the Greek Government, local residents and the European Union all want something different.

Migrants and refugees

The more than 12 000 migrants and refugees in Lesvos are united: they want to leave. To mainland Greece or another European country. This was the case even before the fire when, after their crossing, they came up against long asylum procedures and an overcrowded camp.

After the fire, which the Greek Government believes was set by residents, many migrants hoped that something would change. As a result, there is little desire to be locked up again in a new tent camp, which the Greek Government has rushed out of the ground.

At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, it was mainly Syrians who came to Lesvos. Today, with 76%, the largest group of migrants come from Afghanistan. The chance of their asylum application being rejected in the Netherlands is almost 75%, with an average of around a quarter of Afghans being allowed to stay.

The temporary new camp now has room for 5,000 people. It will be further expanded in the coming period, but most migrants do not want to go to a new camp at all; they want to go to Europe. Many of them are also afraid that they will be locked up there. Hundreds of women and children therefore held a protest march on Monday and shouted: No camp, freedom

Residents of Lesvos

Many residents of Lesvos agree with the migrants. There should be no new camp and Moria should not be rebuilt. They are tired of their island becoming a hotspot and the tension was already running high earlier this year. Boats with asylum seekers were pushed back and aid organisations were prevented from doing their job.

On Thursday, the road to the burned-down camp was blocked by angry residents, who were supported by the town council of Mytilini, the capital of Lesvos, which is close to the camp. The mayor called the arrival of a new camp “unrealistic”. According to him, the population cannot have much more. On Tuesday they demonstrated to demand the departure of the migrants.

Greek government

The Greek Government takes a different view. If it were up to them, every migrant would go to a temporary reception location, if only to avoid giving the impression that starting a fire would be rewarded. Politicians are afraid that fires will also be set in camps on other islands if residents of Moria are taken to the mainland or to other European countries.

This happened last night at a refugee camp on Samos. According to the Greek authorities, this fire was also set. Several migrants were arrested during the investigation. We do not yet know anything about their role.

The civil blockades preventing the construction of a temporary camp on Lesvos were circumvented last week by army helicopters and there are several ministers on the island to convince dissatisfied local administrators.

When it became clear that many migrants do not want to go to a new camp, the Greek Minister for Migration, Mitarakis, said that they must, otherwise their asylum applications will not be considered. On Tuesday, the Greek Government announced that the migrants would be taken to that temporary camp by force if necessary.

The old Moria camp will not be rebuilt, but the Greeks want a new reception centre, this time with greater support and involvement from the European Union.

European Union

For the time being, the European Union can do little more than make a financial contribution. The day after the fire, the European Commission sent money to relocate 400 children and teenagers who lived without families in the camp to the mainland. The amount was not disclosed.

In March, the European Union promised EUR 2 000 to every migrant who wished to return voluntarily from a Greek island. The Greeks also received EUR 700 million to provide emergency shelter for the new refugees and migrants and the necessary infrastructure.

Ten European countries pledged to receive the 400 unaccompanied minors. Germany is doing more and wants to take in 1500 migrants. Last week, the Dutch cabinet decided to let 100 vulnerable migrants come over.

Member States are very divided on the reception of migrants and refugees, Hungary decided in 2018 not to accept any more asylum seekers.

Due to recent developments, the European Commission will soon present a new migration and asylum pact one week ahead of schedule.

UNHCR

UN refugee agency UNHCR looks forward to the new pact. It sees it “as a potential new start for the EU and its Member States to better protect refugees and ensure a Common European Asylum System, based on fair and efficient asylum procedures, solidarity and responsibility-sharing between Member States”.

It remains to be seen whether these expectations can be met. Gerald Knaus, the German government advisor who is seen as the architect of the 2016 Refugee Agreement, is still sceptical because “some Member States are happy with the situation on the islands”.