„Greece’s prison islands“

On Sunday afternoon, two fires broke out, one outside the hotspot of Moria on Lesvos, which was quickly extinguished and the other one shortly after inside the camp. The fire started inside a container due to electric cables and it spread rapidly eventually burning several containers in which families lived. According to the latest media reports, the death of a 49 year old woman has been confirmed, while her 14 year old daughter was seriously injured and is now hospitalized in Mytilene.
Many camp residents rushed to extinguish the fire but the police attacked them with tear gas and pushed them back. This angered the people, who then began to protest. There were incidents with the police in various parts of the camp, which continued until late at night in the olive groves (the unofficial tent-camp next to Moria).
While normally every container had to have a fire extinguisher the people who rushed to help found out that most didn’t work, resulting in valuable time being wasted.
Many people were evacuated and were treated in the Doctors Without Borders‘ facility, located right outside the camp. Also several people were injured and taken to the hospital in Mytilene, not only from the fire but also from the tear gas.
In the meantime, in the media, several stories appeared claiming that the refugees themselves set the camp on fire and tried to block the fire brigade from entering, which had as a result the authorities to respond with police forces shooting tear-gas.
The Greek government‘s first reaction to the incident had been to fly from Athens more troop squads of riot police to strengthen the suppression of angry refugees and migrants living in a camp, where under inhumane conditions 13.000 people have been stuck in a space made for 3.000. There were neither emergency response nor medical teams sent.
What is happening in Moria or in other hotspots right now, is like a reflection of the inhumanity and barbarism of our society. To stand by indifferently allowing this modern time concentration camps to exist, where basic human rights like safety and dignity of the population living in them cannot be assured.
Since the EU-Turkey deal was implemented in 2016, the situation has only gotten worse for asylum seekers reaching the shores of Europe. For thousands of children, women and men fleeing from war, persecution, poverty, hunger and death, the Greek islands in the Aegean have become hellish prison islands.
In the last month on the islands of the Northeast Aegean, ten deaths have been counted…. of them seven have been children.
A few weeks ago a 15 year old boy was stabbed to death after a fight broke out in the overcrowded Safe Zone for unaccompanied minors in Moria.
Last Wednesday in Moria again, a 5 year old little boy was run over by a truck and killed while he was playing in a cardboard box. It should be mentioned here that only ten days before the tragic incident, the authorities had closed down the only children‘s and women’s friendly space that was operating in the area.
Last Friday in the Aegean Sea, a boat carrying 19 people capsized on its way towards Chios. Five children and two women found drowned. Among them a 2 month old infant.
And two days ago it was the big fire in Moria that caused another tragic death of an innocent woman who had been waiting in the hell of a camp for Europe to open it‘s gates to her and her child.
The fire in Moria was no surprise and no accident. The deaths of these ten people cannot be simply stated as „unfortunate incidents“. These are the results of the Greek government’s and Europe’s failure to manage sensibly the dreadful situation of refugees in Greece.
The refugee crisis is now a chronically ongoing issue. The number of arrivals on the Northeast Aegean islands has increased substantially and so suddenly the past few months. It is estimated that around 30.000 people are entrapped on the islands and like Moria also all the rest of these refugee facilities on the Greek islands, are overcrowded and unsafe. For years we debate how to deal with matters consciously and responsibly. It requires a coordinated solution from Greece and the EU, with the aim of providing decent living conditions to all these distressed people rather than focusing on how to appease populists who aim at dividing our societies along national ethnic or religious lines.

Vassia Vlachou-Thein

(Photos: Giorgos Moutafis)