Moria refugee camp, the largest in Europe, went up in flames earlier this month. Having escaped the fire that engulfed the camp, thousands of migrants have been left without shelter while others have been resettled in a new camp where the conditions are squalid and uninhabitable. The international community is demanding immediate action from the EU to address the situation.
Moria shines a light on the extremely dire situation migrants face in Europe and the futility of EU states' inaction. It reminds us that much more can and should be done to help the vulnerable people affected by this disaster. So, here's everything you need to know about Moria and how you can do your part to help.
What is the camp?
Moria is Europe's largest refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. For years, thousands of people who arrived on Lesbos were placed in the camp and could not leave while their asylum application was processed – a slow, bureaucratic process.
The camp has been overwhelmed by huge numbers of asylum-seekers for years. It was designed for fewer than 3,000 people, however, up until this month, it housed upwards of 13,000 people.
The EU has tried to resettle migrants in different member states, but many governments rejected such proposals and the people remained in Moria in worsening conditions. In April, Human Rights Watch warned of the "acute overcrowding" at the site and predicted that the facility was not prepared for an outbreak of coronavirus.
Prior to the fires, conditions in the camp had already severely deteriorated, and despite the risk of Covid-19 people were crammed into overcrowded inadequate tents with very limited access to food, water, sanitation, and health care. Tensions were already running high when authorities placed the camp under strict quarantine earlier this month. Despite the rigid lockdown, migrants weren't provided sufficient access to medical care, hygiene products, running water, and testing.
Now they have nothing.
What happened at Moria?
On September 9, fires broke out in more than three places, the blazes tore through Moria and destroyed the camp. No one was hurt. While the cause is unknown, authorities don't rule out that it was a deliberate act of arson aimed at destroying the camp.
Police allegedly blocked off roads to prevent migrants from entering neighboring towns, forcing many to sleep in fields. And homeless asylum seekers told Human Rights Watch that riot police used violence and tear gas against them. Elsewhere, local residents attacked and prevented fleeing migrants from entering nearby villages.
Following the fires, an emergency camp was opened in the area of Kara Tepe, to temporarily house the most vulnerable children, men, and women who were made homeless in a series of blazes beginning Tuesday last week. 3000 people have been relocated there so far, leaving an estimated 11,000 asylum seekers without adequate shelter on Lesbos.
To mitigate the spread of Covid-19, asylum seekers are undergoing rapid testing before entering the facility. So far, at least 214 have tested positive for Covid-19. The UN refugee agency has warned that while the new camp "may be deemed adequate in terms of shelter and services during emergency situations [it] is not appropriate for the longer-term."
Marco Sandrone of Médecins Sans Frontières told the BBC Moria is "a time bomb that finally exploded." Indeed, the fires highlight the failure of the EU’s “hotspot approach” on the Islands, this has led to the containment of thousands of people on the Greek islands with the aim of relocating them to Turkey. A few EU members have agreed to take up limited numbers of asylum seekers, but the response has hardly been adequate or united.
What has the reaction been?
Following the fires, the Greek government initially blamed migrants for the situation and called for a plan to lock the migrants up in closed facilities on the islands. “Some [people] do not respect the country that is hosting them,” government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said.
The EU has offered to with the response. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the main priority was "the safety of those left without shelter."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed to a deal to relocate 400 unaccompanied minors. Meanwhile, the Netherlands said Thursday it would take in 100 unaccompanied minors and families with children from the camp.
There have also been widespread protests across Europe from people condemning the authorities and the EU's abysmal response.
However, as the situation continues to grow direr in the emergency camp and the life, health, and safety of 13,000 people hang in the balance, more needs to be done.
What can you do to help?
Moria is currently being administered by the Greek army and is off-limits to civilians. This means that any donations will likely have to be made through an organization that officially works with the camp and not in-person. Nevertheless, you can do your part to help respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of the people who have been displaced by the Moria fires and to use your voice to encourage the EU to adopt a more open approach to granting asylum to refugees.
You can donate to the UNHCR, either on a one-time basis or make monthly payments.
#LeaveNoOneBehind is a non-profit platform, where you can donate and stay informed on the crisis in Lesbos.
Amnesty International has created a portal when you can easy craft a personalized message to your head of state to demand action.
If you're based in the EU, we encourage you to reach out to local non-profits to see if you can donate food and essentials to the ongoing relief work.