On September 8th, a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos in Greece, notorious for poor living conditions and overcrowding, was on fire. The blaze destroyed nearly the entire camp and the little that was left was doomed by a second, smaller fire the next night.
The over 13 000 people living in what was called the Moria camp, fled and slept on roadsides, in supermarket parking lots, and in fields, while Greece declared a four-month emergency on the island and sent in riot police to contain the crowds of refugees and asylum seekers.
A new camp was set up quickly, named Kara Tepe, and as of now over half the people who fled the burned Moria camp have been moved to the site. Concerns were raised immediately over the liveability of the new camp as initial reports said there was no food, insufficient water, and lacking hygiene facilities. Recently, it has been reported that Kara Tepe was built on a former military firing range, so concerns of lead poisoning, especially among children, are being raised.
The state of living for refugees on Lesbos is a testament to the legacy of migration in the Mediterranean Sea region in general. The incident and the consequences of the Moria fire is unfortunately not an unusual circumstance for refugees in the region. Long known as the deadliest route in the world for those people fleeing conflict, poverty, and suppression, the “Mediterranean crossing” is a humanitarian disaster at sea and on land.
International human rights organizations and watchdogs continue to point out the dangerous and deadly circumstances so many people are forced into. Human Rights Watch for example condemns the European Union’s handling of the crisis, as people board flimsy and overcrowded boats while the EU’s coast guard has stopped patrolling many areas where it is known that refugees are in danger.
Even with humanitarian and commercial vessels stepping in to rescue those on unsafe or sinking boats, the odds are stacked against everyone involved. In Italy and Malta, for example, ships are often met with hostility and restrictions for disembarking from boats that are not meant to hold so many people for so long. As well, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has called for investigations after recent allegations that Greek authorities have been illegally and forcibly pushing people back out to sea.
Policies such as the potential Pact on Migration and Asylum by the European Commission, and the declaration made last year by Malta, Italy, Germany, and France, on commitments for safe landing and relocation, have yet to implemented with uncertain outcomes.
Meanwhile, Europe and other major powers of the world continue to bicker about who’s responsibility it is to take in people seeking a better and life, as people in need continue to drown, starve, and live in the most insecure of situations. It seems that this situation will continue to deteriorate until the powers of the world realize that assisting and welcoming people in a time of need is not a burden or even a responsibility, but an honour and a privilege.