placard with a picture of Moria camp on fire at a protest in Lausanne, Switzerland, 12 September "We must welcome the refugees" placard with a picture of Moria camp on fire at a protest in Lausanne, Switzerland, 12 September. Photo: Gustave Deghilage / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article"

The devastating consequences of Fortress Europe are being laid bare in the horrific burning down of Moria refugee camp and its aftermath, writes Eleftheria Kousta

The fire in the Moria refugee camp was a disaster waiting to happen. After the devastating events of the last week, approximately 13,000 have been left homeless and in urgent need of aid. Germany and other EU countries have offered to resettle some refugees. However, for many of those who will fall outside the quota the situation will be at least daunting until they get into a safe haven. Initial statements by the Greek government have indicated that only unaccompanied minors will be taken from the island.

The long-awaited process of gradually evacuating Moria was promised to take hold earlier this year with the Greek government promising to resettle people in the mainland and drastically reduce numbers in the most overcrowded and unsanitary place in Europe. But when the first case of Covid-19 in the camp was reported a week ago, the whole settlement was put on a lockdown. Now the pandemic factor will pose a huge risk to those displaced and the residents of the island.

On top of everything else, a lot of aid organisations that were present in Moria had already evacuated their premises or reduced their numbers due to the pandemic and because of a hostile environment that has aimed to bring their operations to halt. Paradoxically, the Greek government and the EU have relied on the essential work and services provided by the NGO sector since the onset of the refugee crisis. So by removing key actors that could assist in dealing with the situation, there is more pressure to act as quickly as possible, which could eventually lead to rushed and unsustainable ‘ad hoc’ solutions.

Tensions have also been rising as special police task forces have been deployed to ‘maintain order’. This has often led to clashes and the emergence of reports showing the police attacking or escalating matters with the refugees, according to Human Rights Watch. The growing presence of far right groups in the area has also made the situation even more explosive.

The cause of the fire remains unknown but that has not stopped the government from making baseless claims that the fire was started deliberately by the refugees themselves. However, the squalid and cramped nature of the camp made fires spreading an inevitability. The government’s posturing is a deliberate attempt to evade responsibility and to stoke anti-refugee sentiment.

The burning of Moria should serve as a stark reminder to the European Union that ‘warehousing’ refugees into inhumane and potentially extreme settings will eventually amount to huge and tragic losses. If the camp was gradually evacuated as soon as it reached capacity – which was years ago – by safely rehousing refugees and granting safe passage to other European nations, south-eastern European countries like Greece would not be faced with a humanitarian emergency of such a scale.

What the rest of us can do from other European countries is petition our MPs, join pro-refugee campaigns, or donate to refugee NGOs, since the crisis has been going on for five years now and it does not seem to have an end in sight. Crucially, in the UK we must also challenge politicians like Priti Patel’s rhetoric demonising refugees crossing the Channel and our government’s abdication of responsibility for the refugees in Calais and the rest of Europe. With Moria going down in flames, may this be the last time we see a settlement like this being set up in Europe.

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