Written by Vasilis Milonas, Young Liberals Greece
Since the 8th of September Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp, is no more. The camp, where thousands of people lived in dramatic conditions, was engulfed by flames, and burned to the ground. I could not agree more with the characterization of the Moria refugee camp as a living hell. No human should live in a place like that and under those conditions, in a place where human rights were violated every single day.
According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2019, Greece hosted over 186,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. This included over 5,000 unaccompanied children. Almost 10% of them were living in the Moria camp in Lesvos island. Originally intended to hold 2,200 people, 18,232 lived at the Moria refugee camp and others were staying in adjacent olive groves (UNHCR, February 2020) – with no electricity, scant water and, for many, no shelter at all.
In the Moria camp, the refugees’ rights were being far from properly protected. The failure of Greece and the EU to establish coherent and humane refugee policies means many lived in inhumane conditions as they tried to restart their lives. Conditions that severely violated essential human rights of the refugees and asylum seekers such as the right to sanitation (according to Médecins Sans Frontières there were only 90 toilets and 90 showers inside the camp, and 1 tap per 1,300 people), to adequate housing, and to basic public health measures.
During the past few months, there has been an escalation in the conflicts regarding the refugee crisis in Greece and Southern Europe. The fire outbreak in the Moria camp indicated in the most horrible way the ineffective handling of the situation from the Greek and the European governments. The situation is currently at a critical point, due to the rise of hate speech, right- and left-wing populism and the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.
The Greek government has to carry its weight and to change its policy towards refugees as soon as possible. Instead of playing a blame-game which deteriorates their living conditions, fosters discrimination, racism and hate speech, impinges upon their rights and leads in fragmentation it needs a policy focusing on dignity and respect. All in all, it is immensely important that Greek authorities introduce an agenda focusing on the protection of refugees and their integration to the Greek and European society.
Furthermore, the crisis brought to the fore the limited mechanisms and responses to meet needs in place, the absence of a truly common European asylum space and the flaws of the Dublin Regulation. The Syrian refugee crisis revealed how disjointed the political, cultural, and social Union is. Relying solely on Schengen and the common currency is no longer enough to sustain us. We as Young Liberals think that the European Union should promote a humanitarian agenda, focusing on protection of refugees and respect of their human rights. The European Union must also request that the Member States stay true to the Union’s fundamental principles: respect, equality, individual freedom and solidarity. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the refugee crisis some Member States of the EU have failed to do so.
Europe must review its immigration policy, not by providing temporary solutions to the problem but by promoting the distribution of the refugees to all European countries. In these extraordinary times, extraordinary measures are needed, such as revising the Dublin System which requires asylum seekers to claim asylum at the first European country they enter and work towards a balanced common asylum policy based on solidarity and justice. The governments of Europe also need to act with courage. They must stop piling migrants in to camps like Moria and accept refugees in their countries. They must lead with the principles and values that define the common European endeavor: humanity, dignity and respect. Neither the pandemic nor the financial crisis are excuses to not respect basic human rights.