Moria camp Lesbos
Photograph: (InTime News via AP)

Riots Sparked by Fire in Greek Refugee Camp

Since 2015, the refugee crisis in Greece has rapidly deteriorated. Charities and aid workers have long protested the squalid conditions that thousands of asylum seekers are exposed to as they are left stranded on Greek islands whilst navigating the perilous path to asylum. Yet the Greek government continues to announce toughened refugee policy in an attempt to ‘tackle’ the plight of asylum seekers.  

On Monday 30th September, the United Nations called for the mass evacuation of the catastrophic Moria camp; home to an estimated 12,600 asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos. This came as harrowing reports surfaced documenting a fatal fire at the camp on Sunday, resulting in the tragic deaths of at least one woman and two children.

Moria camp, Europe’s largest refugee camp, is reportedly four times over capacity. The fire, which began in a shipping container relied upon as a makeshift shelter for those forced to remain within the camp, spread throughout surrounding containers, provoking widespread riots in a desperate effort to demand safety and a stable environment.

Speaking to The Guardian, Marco Sandrone, a field officer with Médecins Sans Frontières, said:

“European and Greek authorities who continue to contain these people in these conditions have a responsibility in the repetition of these dramatic episodes. It is high time to stop the EU-Turkey deal and this inhumane policy of containment. People must be urgently evacuated out of the hell that Moria has become.”

As a result of the 2016 EU-Turkey deal Sandrone refers to, an ever-increasing number of asylum seekers are being trapped on Greek islands such as Lesbos in a cruel bid to prevent them from reaching European mainland. This simply cannot go on. It strips those seeking asylum of their right to choose where they claim asylum and consequently, thousands face unlawful deportations to Turkey or their country of origin.

It has fallen to NGOs and volunteers to provide even the most basic of sanitation products to those left in limbo throughout Greece. Those seeking asylum have shared their appalling situations as they are made to queue for up to 8 hours to use a toilet shared by 100 people and face similar waiting times to receive a meal severely deficient in nutritious value.

riots refugee camp
Photograph: Lizzie Dearden

Devastatingly, the fire – which Greek officials are yet to provide an explanation for – is not the first to hit Moria camp. In 2016, fires erupted throughout the camp, destroying what little belongings its occupants had, including tents, clothing and documentation. And yet, evidently, the crisis is yet to be averted.

As riots broke out on Sunday in response to both inexcusable living conditions and the time taken for Greek emergency services to act when informed of the fire, police responded with teargas and excessive violence. That this continually occurs without reprimand from those with power is a disgrace to humanity and makes clear which side the West is on.

immigration refugee riots
Photograph: Giorgos Moutafis/Reuters

Teargassing individuals who have endured deeply traumatic circumstances – the very terror they escaped in the first place – shows blatant disregard of their fragile emotional and mental states. A majority of those arriving to Greece are Syrian refugees who have escaped indescribable warzones. For the Greek police force to respond to their cries for help with vicious attacks is a sickening infringement of their right to asylum.

These individuals need support on all levels, not further abuse. How much longer can the world stand by and watch as refugees are dehumanised time and time again?

Written by
Holly Barrow