Even before fires with as yet unknown causes destroyed a large part of the camp last night and thousands of migrants fled, the situation in Moria was distressing. In the migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesvos there has been overpopulation for years, poor living conditions and little prospect of improvement.
Moria is therefore perhaps the most notorious migrant camp in Europe. According to many, it has become the symbol of the failure of the EU to deal with the refugee crisis.
Because of the fires, thousands of migrants slept on the streets last night:
Moria, a former military base, is a so-called reception and identification centre, also known as a hotspot. The hotspots were set up on Greek islands in 2015, when the EU made a deal with Turkey about the reception of migrants.
In the hotspots the migrants will be received and they can start their asylum procedure. All migrants arriving by boat on Lesbos will therefore be brought to Moria. However, because of the risk of corona infections, new migrants first have to spend two weeks in quarantine in other camps specially equipped for this purpose.
Under the EU Turkey deal, it was agreed that if the migrants were granted asylum, they would be transferred from Moria to other EU countries. Otherwise they would be sent back. But that deal remained largely theoretical. Despite EU agreements on the redistribution of asylum seekers, almost no country kept its promise.
14-year-old Morteza took pictures of the situation in Moria after the fire:
There are a total of five hotspots on Greek islands. Besides Lesvos they are on Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos. The capacity of all these hotspots together is about 6000 migrants, that of Moria 3000. The hotspots on Samos, Chios and Lesvos are hopelessly overcrowded.
Afghans and Syrians
At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015 it was mainly Syrians who came to Lesbos. They still make up an important part of the migrants (19 percent). Currently, with 47 percent, the largest group of migrants on the Greek islands come from Afghanistan, according to the latest figures from the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. There are also many Congolese, Palestinians and Somalis. They all make up 6 per cent of the migrants.
Most migrants are adult males: 48 percent. The proportion of adult women is 21 percent. The rest of the migrant population in the Greek hotspots consists of children: 31 percent, some of whom have no parents.
In 2020, a few hundred migrants per month were added. This was different in 2019. In September, at its peak, 4800 migrants arrived on Lesbos. As a result, there were more than 20,000 people in Moria in March 2020.
Meanwhile, the number of migrants in Moria has decreased somewhat, because migrants have been transferred to the mainland. In July there were about 2500. At 13,000, the number of people in the camp is still far above the maximum capacity.
All aid organisations and NGOs paint a poignant picture of the camp. The official camp site has long been too small to accommodate everyone. That’s why it has been extended provisionally on, for example, adjoining olive groves, where migrants live in tents and wooden huts, covered with tarpaulins. Sanitary facilities are barely available, just like clean water.
According to Médecins sans Frontières there is only one crane for every 1300 people in parts of the camp. Families sometimes have to sleep five on 3 square meters. And that was before today’s fires. “The situation is untenable,” said correspondent Conny Keessen in the CCeit Radio 1 News. “And that leads to tensions in the camp.”
Here are pictures of the situation in Moria before a fire broke out:
In addition, the camp has been facing strict restrictions for months because of the coronavirus. People were only allowed to leave the camp with permission from the police or with a doctor’s certificate. Nevertheless, last week the first infection was diagnosed in a Somali man in his forties and a lockdown was set up. By now at least 35 migrants have been infected, a situation that NGOs have been warning about for months.
Because of the risk of corona infections, elderly and vulnerable migrants from Moria are being transferred to hotels or apartments in Lesbos or mainland Greece, or to other camps. Last week there were thirty.
According to Stichting Bootvluchteling, the lockdown causes more psychological complaints among the residents, including the thousands of children in the camp who can no longer go to school. Earlier this year the situation of children in the Greek camps without parents led to considerable political discussion in the Netherlands. The Cabinet does not want to accommodate children from the camps in the Netherlands.
Because of the general living conditions aggravated by corona, aid workers have been calling for Moria to be evacuated for some time now. Residents of Lesbos also want the camp to close. That call will now only get stronger after the fires.