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What can people expect if they manage to reach the Greek Islands?

After years of the European Union and Greece consistently turning a blind eye to the realities of Lesvos, Moria refugee camp burned to the ground on the night of 8 September 2020. The full extent of the devastating fire became visible a few days after the event: tents, containers and sanitary facilities were largely destroyed and some 13.000 refugees were rendered 'homeless'. People left to live in catastrophic conditions along the road that connects Moria and downtown Mytilene.

The sole reaction by the Greek government has been the hasty construction of a new camp on a military site. It is a prison-like, closed-off area filled with flimsy tents which, according to the Greek authorities, is intended to be a temporary solution. Hundreds of tents are pitched close together and, just as it was in 'old' Moria, there is a lack of everything: sanitary facilities, food and water supplies, medical care and the right to self-determination.

This new camp will certainly fail. Not only because it is too small, unsafe, unhygienic and poorly equipped. It will fail because it is another place of structural violence, dehumanisation and injustice. It is a place where literally anything can happen because it falls outside of the legal order. Declaring this new camp to be temporary construction inherently rejects the lived reality of refugees in Greece, who are forced to remain in camps for years. Their exclusion from society is not temporary, it is politically motivated. The camp seals off the fate of so many refugees in Europe, as they continue to be held in a transient state of despotism.

“I don’t know if it is better or worse."

"It’s the same."

"It’s another camp”

“I don’t know if it is better or worse. It’s the same. It’s another camp”, says Fatima, a 15-year-old girl from Afghanistan. Her parents used to live in a camp close to the Iranian border when they were her age. Now, she and her relatives have shared a tent for more than a year, and the few possessions she owned burned in the fire. They had a long journey before reaching Lesvos: traveling from Afghanistan to Iran, Turkey and Greece. The story of Fatima and her family is no exception. Many people on Lesvos were being displaced, oppressed and politically persecuted before coming to Greece. Camps are the only dominating constant in their lives.

Ultimately, Moria was and is a politically organised human rights crime that continues to exist. Even after the destruction of the physical camp, it has been recreated in a new site. This broken model for harbouring asylum-seekers is doomed to fail, because we’ve seen it fail before. A life of dignity and self-determination is a human right that cannot be realised in camps. Therefore, a new camp on Lesvos, on the Greek mainland or elsewhere cannot be a viable solution.

Refugees on Lesvos need political will and solidarity, which can only be achieved through political action. There are countless Moria-equivalents all over Europe, all over the world, and they concern us all.

© Photos: Arian Henning / Mare Liberum

Mare Liberum

Human rights violations happen every day in the Aegean. Since 2018, Mare Liberum e. V. is monitoring the human rights situation on Lesvos and in the Aegean Sea. The aim is to observe, document, and draw public attention to the dangerous situation at the European border between Turkey and Greece and to strengthen solidarity and fundamental human rights. We need your help to raise awareness, ignite collective action, and ultimately raise standards for how human rights are respected and protected in Europe.

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