‘Hell on earth’: The Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos

A child warms himself by a fire in a makeshift camp in Moria. [Giorgos Moutafis]

Living conditions in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, housing thousands of refugees, are particularly difficult, according to Oxfam. As the weather turns colder, the charity is calling for an immediate reaction from Europe. EURACTIV France reports.

“Currently, winter is approaching and weather conditions are getting worse. It’s raining a lot. Everything is soaked: clothes, blankets, the few things people have. They sleep at night in wet blankets in tents that could collapse at any moment,” Sonia Andreu told Oxfam*.

Andreu is the programme manager of the “Bashira” centre for migrants on the island of Lesbos. Located close to Turkey, this little part of Greece hosts the Moria refugee camp, where more than 7,000 people are waiting to reach the European continent.

The camp, the main European centre for registering and checking asylum applications (one of the renowned “hotspots”), is overloaded. It accommodates almost twice its initial capacity, with up to 2,000 new refugees arriving every month. While a number of them are sent back to Turkey, life in the camp is extremely precarious.

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Staff shortage a further problem

“The situation in Moria is beyond belief. I’ve been regularly coming here since 2017 and every time I think that it can’t be worse when I next visit. But it is,” said Maria**, who works for the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR).

On top of the mud and the cold, other problems include the lack of security (two-thirds of those detained here say they feel unsafe), overcrowding and poor hygiene.

“We are 25 women sleeping in a tent, with a single bathroom, which can also be used by anyone. It’s really very dirty but we have to wash in it anyway,” said Clara**, a 36-year-old woman originally from Cameroon.

And then, there is a shortage of medical staff.

Most of the time, there is only one doctor on the island, sent by the Greek government. “Seeing a doctor is very difficult, there is only one for the whole camp. You really have to be on the brink of death for them to take care of you,” complained 45-year-old Shala** from Afghanistan.

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Defining “vulnerable” people

Oxfam reported that, during the month of November, there were no doctors on site at all. It was therefore not possible to carry out any medical checks on new arrivals to identify people considered to be “vulnerable” – unaccompanied children, pregnant women, mothers of infants, people with disabilities and victims of torture.

The example of Joysin, a 28 year-old Cameroonian asylum seeker, demonstrates the extent of the problem. Oxfam explained that when Joysin arrived in Lesbos, he was immediately “locked up” expecting to be deported, with a medical check that was limited to finding out whether he had had “an operation recently.”

Joysin did not have any operation but he did have serious mental health issues. He had to wait for one month before seeing a psychologist and being “freed” after three months, having in the meantime “sat in a confined space with 15 other men who all had their own issues,” he said. After having been “set free” in the camp, he has not been taken care of.

A “fundamental duty”

This situation is denounced by Jon Cerezo, humanitarian campaign manager at Oxfam France. “Not identifying the most vulnerable people and not meeting their needs is irresponsible and careless,” he said angrily.

“Identifying these people is the most fundamental duty of the Greek government and its European partners,” Cerezo stressed.

There are many such cases in Moria and the same applies to pregnant women.

“I know a woman who gave birth by Caesarean section. Four days later, she was sent back to her tent with her children, in completely unsanitary conditions,” Andreu said. “I think Moria is hell on earth,” she added.

“Dublin” reform at standstill

Oxfam is advocating that all of these “vulnerable” people follow the normal procedure to apply for asylum and are not subject to accelerated deportation procedures to Turkey.

Oxfam also believes that the solution lies in strengthening human and material resources in the Greek islands and also in transferring asylum seekers to mainland Greece more regularly, in order to provide better care.

However, the response required goes far beyond Greece. It’s the European Union as a whole which has to address the issue. Oxfam is calling for greater solidarity in Europe and, in particular, reform of the Dublin Regulation, the EU asylum system.

The EU member states again failed to reach agreement in this respect at the December European Council. Since November 2017, the European Parliament has been urging them to rethink “Dublin” so that the load of migration can be better shared.

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* These comments were obtained by Oxfam.
** Names have been changed.

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