• Disha Sarangi

Lesbos Camp Fire

What is Moria? It is where Europe’s ideals—solidarity, human rights, a haven for victims of war and violence—dissolve in a tangle of bureaucracy, indifference, and lack of political will. It is the normalization of a humanitarian crisis. It is the moral failure of Europe.

Nearly 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers were displaced as the largest migrant camp in Europe burned to the ground on the 9th of September, 2020. This is the Moria Camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, housing more than four times its stated capacity. 

What went down?

Around 20 firefighters battled the blaze at the Moria camp as many suffering from the smoke exposure fled. As these fires came amid escalating tension on the island of Lesbos, police blocked the roads from the camp and residents tried to stop the fleeting asylum seekers from entering the nearby villages. Fire broke out in two more areas on the island.

The families slept rough on the roads, with no shelter, food, water, medical aid, or other necessities. Police were found using violence and tear gas against those left homeless. The fires also burnt the reception centers as well as the European Asylum Office, raising concerns about refugee and migrant case files.

Cause of Fire

Although the reasons are unclear, the authorities claim that it was ignited due to the protests against the rigid COVID -19 impositions that prohibited refugees from entering or exiting the camp. The camp was placed in lockdown after its first COVID-19 case a week before the inferno. There were about 35 positive cases since then, who refused to move into isolation with their families. Others blamed the far-right Greek locals for starting the fires amid the escalating anti-migrant sentiment on the island.

Response from the Greek Government

Greek authorities built a temporary camp, Kara Tepe, that can house around 8,000 people. Refugees were restrained from moving into the mainland, except about 400 unaccompanied children who are being assisted by the UNHCR and IOM.

The migration ministry stated that it would take all necessary steps to ensure rehabilitation. Doctors With-out Borders (MSF) opened an emergency clinic in the area.

International Reaction

Germany has agreed to take in 1,553 refugees from Greece, on top of 150 unaccompanied minors. France has agreed to take in 150 minors while other EU nations are admitting a total of 100 other youngsters from Moria. About 119 Dutch municipalities have offered to take in refugees.

The fire came at a time when the EU was struggling with the migrant control system. It drew attention towards the dire conditions in the camp, highlighting the poor “hotspot approach” of the European Union.

The new European commission pact on Migration and Asylum is supposed to rebuild trust and strike the right balance between solidarity and responsibilities. EU countries desperately need to balance their asylum system and their values of humanitarianism. The internal anti-migrant politics needs to be controlled, for harmonious co-existence.


Al Jazeera

BBC News

NY Times

~ Disha Sarangi