Moria refugee camp an embarrassment for Europe

The Guardian — High in the hills of the island of Lesbos, in a former military camp now filled with containers and tents, the onset of winter has elicited particular dread.

In the countdown to its official arrival, protests have become louder both inside and outside the facility, whose wall is graffitied with the menacing message: welcome to Moria prison.

For the men, women and children forced to call Moria their home, the refugee camp is a daily battle for survival in conditions so desperate that even the Greek migration minister has warned they could be life-threatening.

For human rights groups, who have long sounded the alarm, the vastly overcrowded camp is a tragedy waiting to happen and an embarrassment for Europe. Now, as the rains begin to fall and riots erupt, authorities in Athens are taking action, pledging to transfer 5,000 asylum seekers to the mainland.

For the first time in more than a year, Moria’s population has dipped beneath 6,000, it was announced this week. The camp, originally built as a temporary measure at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, was designed to accommodate 2,000. Most of its occupants live in flimsy tents whose only preparation for winter has involved using wooden pallets to elevate tarpaulins above the mud.

At all hours the air is pungent with thick, acrid smoke – the result of plastic bottles being burned by detainees to keep warm in the absence of readily available wood.

Mounds of litter lie along pathways of slush and excrement, the latter spillover from lavatories unable to cope with a population that for the last 18 months has been three times over camp’s capacity.

After last year’s accord between the EU and Turkey – a landmark agreement intended to curb the number of people attempting to make the perilous journey to Europe – an estimated 15,000 migrants and refugees have amassed on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the vast majority marooned by the complexities of an overwhelmed asylum service that condemns them to remain there until requests are processed.

Lesbos is not alone. Similar settlements exist on Chios, Leros, Samos and Kos, all within sight of smuggler networks on Turkey’s Asia minor coast. But none is worse than Moria.

Last week, the government rushed in emergency aid in the form of containers – enough to house between two and three hundred refugees.

For many Moria has come to embody policy-making at its worse – almost three years into a migration crisis that has prompted the most expensive humanitarian response in history.

“If this is the best Europe has to offer, I am shocked,” he says. “In 2015 it was an onslaught [in terms of arrivals] and very difficult to respond to, but two years later in 2017, we should know better.”

As well as transfers to the mainland, the Greek government is now pinning its hopes on Turkey accepting more deportees following a historic visit by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to Athens earlier this month.

But the intricacies of diplomacy mean little to those holed up in Moria.

Andrew Foley, an Irish volunteer, is far from optimistic.

“Moria undermines everything Europe stands for. If you keep people in conditions like this, if you rob them of hope and condemn them to suffer, nothing good will come of it.”

Full report and photos “Welcome to prison” The Guardian 22 Dec 2017