On September 9th, migrants and officials watched as Europe’s largest refugee camp went up into flames. A series of fires in three places around the camp lead to the camp engulfed in flames. By the time the fires were put out by the local fire chief, Konstantinos Theofilopoulos, little remained. As a result, the camp has been permanently closed with no sign of reconstruction.
Officially, the cause of the fires hasn’t been confirmed, except that it was premeditated. With the majority of the camp destroyed and no witness accounts stating they saw the fires started, officials are relying on speculation.
Accusations from NGOs suggest that Greek authorities blocked access to hospitals for the injured. Healthcare workers have also confirmed that they were stopped by police on their way to tend to the wounded. Riot police were said to have been blocking the transport of injured women and children. Including 19 migrants who were in isolation for Covid-19.
The camp was built in 2015 and sits on the island of Lesbos, Greece. It was named ‘Mória’, after a surrounding village. Initially, Mória was designed for 3,100 migrants, but quickly grew to house nearly 13,000 men, women, and children. The migrants range in backgrounds as Mória shelters the large influx of migrants who crossed the Mediterranean from the Middle East and Africa.
Before the fire, the camp’s conditions were described as unlivable. With minimal funding and the disapproval of neighboring Greek residents, the camp has been struggling for some time. This, in addition to the lack of healthcare, food, water, and the current pandemic has made a life for migrants increasingly difficult.
The fire has raised very real and valid questions about Europe's handling of the migrant crisis. Wars such as the Syrian War, the war in Afghanistan, the conflict in Libya, and the conflict in Somalia, fuel the migrant crisis. According to the United Nations, in 2016 alone, 362,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranian into Europe.
The continuous and high concentration of incoming migrants and refugees has left coastal countries like Greece struggling to care for them. New policies enacted by these countries have been put in place to limit the number of people coming in. Notably, Greece has enforced laws that prohibit migrants from entering. The government has however received open criticisms from organizations like Amnesty International for their strict policies.
Since the closing of Mória, the United Nations has begun to relocate some of the more vulnerable families. By the end of September, 140 asylum seekers were relocated to Germany as part of the European Commission’s efforts to relocate 1,000 people. Among the 140 people are families with children who have health needs and unaccompanied children. In response, Greek authorities have also pledged to relocate 740 unaccompanied children to varying European countries.
While Europe’s efforts led by NGOs and the UN may look promising, the migrant crisis is undeniable and overwhelming. Mória is only one of many camps that have been devastated in the last several years.
With winter fast approaching and the pandemic, it’s crucial that European countries collaborate with organizations to facilitate livable conditions in camps and regard Mória, as a lesson in its importance.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.