On 9 September 2020, a few days after several people in Lesvos’ Moria Camp tested positive for Covid-19, fires broke out that destroyed the camp, leaving some 13,000 people without shelter and resulting in a major humanitarian crisis. It is unclear how the fires began but according to Greece’s migration minister, the fires “began with the asylum seekers.” Some migrants told the BBC that the fire had broken out after scuffles between migrants and Greek forces at the camp. Marco Sandrone, a project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, stated that while it was difficult to establish the cause of the fires, “it’s a time bomb that finally exploded,” adding that people had been kept in inhumane conditions for years.
After the fire, police reportedly blocked roads to prevent migrants from entering nearby towns. Some locals also reportedly attacked and prevented migrants from passing through a nearby village after they fled the flames. One migrant from Afghanistan told Reuters: “We don’t know where to go, and all the refugees are outside, trying to find a place to at least just stay.” The mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis, said it was a “very difficult situation because some of those who are outside will include people who are positive for coronavirus.”
Migrants have been left to sleep on the streets or in cemeteries. According to Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), 800 people have settled in a newly erected emergency camp, where 21 people have tested positive. Most migrants are refusing to settle in the new camp as they fear that once they enter it, they will be prevented from leaving.
On 12 September, Greek riot police fired teargas at refugees protesting against conditions in Lesvos. Witnesses reported teargas being fired after younger migrants began throwing rocks at police units. The Guardian reported that the insistence of Greek officials that transferral is out of the question and a growing realisation that any prospect of leaving is diminishing rapidly have helped create an increasingly toxic atmosphere. One aid worker on the island told the Guardian: “The thought that they may be here for even longer now, the sight of the replacement camp and being stranded without proper shelter for days, has, for many, become the tipping point.”
Certain European countries and the European Union have offered their aid to Greece. For instance, Switzerland has volunteered to take in some unaccompanied minors that were left stranded. In total, 10 countries, including Switzerland, will be taking in 400 unaccompanied minors from the camp. The response of most countries has focussed on resettling unaccompanied minors, although Germany vowed to also take care of families. The Prime Minister of the North-Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, offered to take in “1,000 refugees.”
RTS has qualified the measures adopted by countries regarding the transferral of unaccompanied minors rather than families as “selective solidarity” in that due to children’s vulnerability, governments do not need to justify themselves when providing care for children. However, taking in adults, raises many more doubts in public opinion, especially in times of economic uncertainty.
- C. Favre, “La Suisse Privilégie l’Accueil de Mineurs Non-Accompagnés du Camp de Moria,” RTS, 15 September 2020, https://www.rts.ch/info/suisse/11605172-la-suisse-privilegie-laccueil-de-mineurs-non-accompagnes-du-camp-de-moria.html
- BBC News, “Moria Migrants: Fire Destroys Greek Camp Leaving 13,000 Without Shelter,” 9 September 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54082201
- K. Fallon, “It’s Unbearable: Lesbos Refugees Sleep on Streets After Devastating Fire,” The Guardian, 11 September 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/11/its-unbearable-lesbos-refugees-sleep-on-streets-after-devastating-fire
- H. Smith, “Greek Riot Police Fire Teargas at Refugees Campaigning to Leave Lesbos,” The Guardian, 12 September 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/12/greek-riot-police-fire-teargas-at-refugees-campaigning-to-leave-lesbos
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Greece,” September 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/greece#country-report