In the early hours of this morning, a large fire broke out in Moria Refugee Camp, which has left much of the camp destroyed, and many of the approximately 13, 000 residents displaced.
This comes a week after the first person tested positive for COVID-19 in the camp, which was immediately followed by the government’s official initiation of works to transform Moria refugee camp to a closed controlled centre. In the days that followed, at least 30 other people have tested positive for COVID-19 – in a camp that is currently at four times’ its stated capacity, where basic preventative measures are a practical impossibility and where there was no functioning COVID-19 isolation clinic.
The dehumanisation of migrants at the European border and apparent indifference to the impact of this protracted, unsustainable situation on the local population have had repeatedly devastating consequences. Migrants have been consistently confined to overcrowded, insecure and fundamentally inhuman conditions, where fires – often fatal – are a regular occurrence. This was not the first fire in Moria camp; it was not even the first fire in the camp this year. Such fatal risks to – and loss of – migrant lives are instead tolerated as part of the European border regime.
Following the near destruction of Moria Camp, this morning the Greek government placed the island of Lesvos under a four month state of emergency. The police and army have been on the streets around Moria camp since the fire broke out, and three riot police squads (known as the Units for the Reinstatement of Order) were flown in from Athens this morning. As far as we know, no additional medical capacity or humanitarian aid has been mobilised or provided. The government’s immediate dispatch of security forces, before or without humanitarian assistance, continues their policy of framing migrants as a question of public order – and prioritising their securitisation as opposed to the provision of urgent assistance.
The Greek authorities’ main priority so far seems to be the prevention of migrants’ access to Mytiline: a police blockade was established next to Kara Tepe camp in the early hours of this morning, to prevent migrants who had fled the fire from reaching the city, and it remains there to this point. Police units have also blocked the main access road to Moria camp. People who had been living in the camp are spread out on the roads around Moria camp, in the surrounding forests, and in the car park of a nearby supermarket. From what migrants have told us, there have been no state provisions – whether of essentials such as food or water, or other necessities such as hygiene facilities – in those locations.
There has never been an evacuation plan for Moria Camp residents, and when the fire broke out last night, people were left to flee on their own – including those who had been held in the pre-removal detention centre inside Moria Camp (PRO.KE.KA.). Some of those living in the sections for vulnerable people (including unaccompanied children and single women) were woken up by police, but given no instruction of where they could or should go. At present, there remains a profound lack of information regarding the safeguarding or protection response for such groups. When we spoke with vulnerable individuals supported by Legal Centre Lesvos in the early hours of this morning, they were scattered in the forests and roads surrounding the camp, without any state support.
There is still no official confirmation of casualties, or even hospitalisations.
Those who have returned to Moria camp this morning have sent photos of the destroyed camp, including the remains of their tents and shelters. Residents have emphasised that the many of the facilities – including toilets and sanitation spaces – have been burnt. The already-inadequate provisions to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19 among the camp’s population have now been destroyed, and given that over thirty residents of the camp have tested positive for the virus in recent days, a failure to implement a rapid and health-oriented response for displaced residents will no doubt increase the number of cases – and will likely overwhelm the stretched public healthcare system.
“This fire is a visceral manifestation of European policies, which have for years tolerated the containment of migrants in dangerous, overcrowded and insecure conditions,” said Amelia Cooper, of the Legal Centre Lesvos. “Repeated fatal incidents – including the death of a seven-year-old child in a fire in Moria camp, just six months ago – have not been enough to prompt the evacuation of Moria refugee camp; neither has been the outbreak of a global pandemic, nor the detection of positive cases, nor the Greek government’s instrumentalisation of these facts to impose mass detention on camp residents. Residents of Moria camp, and migrants in hotspots across Europe, are in situations of manufactured and state-sanctioned vulnerability. This fire was not an accident, it was an inevitability.”
Please note: This statement was prepared at 14.45 on 09/09/2020.
For further information please contact: Amelia Cooper, email@example.com