The challenge of integrating beneficiaries of international protection in the European Union
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Destruction of the largest refugee camp in Greece: where does European solidarity stand?
In May 2020, 38,000 asylum seekers were living in the Aegean Sea migrant camps, initially planned to accommodate 6,200 people. This potentially explosive situation in the context of the pandemic led the Greek government to multiply controversial and restrictive measures, which led to the dilapidated and overcrowded camp of Moria burning down on the night of 8 to 9 September. What was Europe’s and Greece’s response to this tragedy?
Faced with the overcrowding in the Aegean camps, operations to transfer the most vulnerable migrants and refugees from the Greek islands to the mainland and other European countries had proved relatively effective. In total, more than 12,000 migrants had been able to leave the Greek islands between January and June 2020, including 4,000 residents of the former Moria camp. However, according to several NGOs, this sharp decrease (of the order of 29.6% since the beginning of the year) did not mean an improvement in living conditions in the saturated camps.
Indeed, the overcrowding of the camps, the health threat and the restrictive decisions of the authorities have created tensions in the different camps in the Aegean islands. These tensions ended with the destruction of the camp of Moria in a huge fire, triggered by some groups of migrants rioting, who refused to abide by the lockdown measures imposed after the discovery of several positive cases of COVID-19. This destruction caused an unprecedented humanitarian disaster on the island of Lesbos: without water, food or shelter, the majority of the 12,700 men, women and children who lived in this camp with an initial capacity of 3,000 places were left to fend for themselves for several days, forced to sleep in the street.
Faced with this tragedy, France and Germany launched a “European initiative” which was however limited to just announcing emergency humanitarian aid and the evacuation of 400 unaccompanied foreign minors. Although the number of planned relocations was subsequently increased, notably with the announcement by the German government of its intention to receive around 1,500 refugees from Greece, the relocation proposals remained lacklustre in relation to the needs of the former inhabitants of the camp, including 4,000 children.
Due to the lack of relocation, 9,200 of the 12,700 asylum seekers who became homeless after the fire were transferred to a new temporary camp that was urgently opened in Kara Tepe on the island of Lesbos. Due to bad weather, living conditions in this “new Moria” have recently deteriorated, causing concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and several NGOs. The Greek government’s response, which has also been implicated in cases of asylum seekers being violently turned back in the Aegean Sea, has for the moment been limited to announcing the construction of a new permanent and closed camp “by summer 2020” in Lesbos, with the support of the European Union.
This text includes various articles published in several “Europe Vigils” in recent months: in those of 16 to 31 July, 1st to 15 August 2020, 1st to 15 September (here and here), 16 to 30 September and 1st to 15 October.