The only reason Europe keeps migrants on Lesbos is deterrence

Because European countries refuse to accept asylum seekers, things got so out of hand in the overcrowded Moria reception camp this week. That is what Gerald Knaus, the German government advisor who is seen as the architect of the 2016 refugee agreement, says.

In recent months, people have been held hostage in dramatic conditions to deter new migrants. This is not only illegal, it is also immoral’

‘For refugees, Moria is like Guantanamo Bay’

Several fires broke out in the migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesvos on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, probably set by frustrated residents. The fires reduced the camp to ashes and thousands of residents became homeless. European countries, including the Netherlands, pledged to take care of some of the homeless people, mainly children.

Every person who is helped out of the hell that has become Moria is, of course, something positive, says Knaus. But it is not a solution. There are over 12,000 people in Moria, and politicians can ask themselves a simple question: why are we keeping them on Lesbos? There has to be a quick solution and that solution will not be found on the island

More than 20,000 migrants lived in Moria this spring. In the last six months, almost half of those people have been brought to the mainland, but with a capacity of no more than 3,000, the camp remained heavily overcrowded. With hardly any sanitation, clean water, room for social distancing and prospects for improvement, for refugees it looked like Guantanamo Bay, says Knaus. It was inevitable that the bomb would burst

The atmosphere at Lesvos today is grim. Thousands of asylum seekers are demanding to be removed from the island. Islanders are afraid that the migrants will build another camp and angry because the European Union is doing too little:

Knaus says that Greece and the EU are keeping asylum seekers on the island in appalling conditions to deter new migrants. The message that it is better to stay in Afghanistan, Lebanon or Turkey than to come to Europe is the failure of our policy

Moreover, deterrence is a strategy that does not work, he says. Conversely, according to him, taking in more migrants does not lead to many more migrants daring to travel to Europe.

New deal with Turkey?

Knaus argues in favour of a new long-term European strategy and wants talks to be resumed with Turkey. This year, the 2016 deal with that country, which he devised, came to an end. In exchange for billions from Brussels, Turkey took in millions of Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees on Greek islands were to be redistributed to EU countries. Migrants who were not entitled to protection in the EU would be sent back to Turkey.

The deal reduced the number of refugees, but the return and redistribution largely failed. Still, it seems Knaus makes sense to talk to Turkey again

Many aid organisations were dissatisfied with the agreement, but the world has seen a world without it for the past six months. We saw return actions and we saw people stuck to deterrence. We need to work with Turkey to reduce that flow of refugees again. That worked for four years

The European Commission will come up with new asylum plans at the end of September, but Knaus is sceptical about that. It seems obvious to me that we should not expect much. And that is absolutely not the European Commission’s fault. Some Member States are happy with the situation on the islands