By Linda Bordoni
Greece began setting up tents on Friday for thousands of migrants left without shelter on the island of Lesbos after a fire destroyed the nation’s biggest refugee camp three days ago.
With more than 12,000 former occupants of the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp now camping out in fields and along roadsides and threatened by a possible spread of coronavirus infections, the need for a solution has become increasingly urgent.
The disaster – that observers say was predictable because of the untenable conditions in the camp – highlights Europe’s inability to agree on a common policy that would protect the migrants while sharing responsibility for their relocation.
Religious leaders, faith-based groups and humanitarian organizations are calling for a rapid response to the crisis, while aid workers on the ground are helping deliver food and water to those left without a roof over their heads.
As Silvia Sinibaldi, Humanitarian Director at Caritas Europa says, the organization is calling for the safety of those on the move and European solidarity.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, she also told of the first-hand information provided by Caritas’s Greek office, “Caritas Hellas”, that has a team on the ground in Lesbos.
Sinibaldi described the situation on the island of Lesbos as “quite tense” with thousands of former Moria inhabitants stranded on the streets with no water or shelter. She said a large number of them are trying to enter the island’s main town of Mytilene but they are being stopped by police.
She said the Caritas Hellas team is coordinating with the Greek Minister of migration “who is the leader of the response in coordination with UNHCR.”
“They have offered support distributing water, and sleeping bags if needed - but let’s hope not - because this would mean that migrants would be relocated either on the mainland or elsewhere on the island. They are also informing, helping with the translations and giving guidance to some 10,000 migrants that are stranded on the streets,” she said.
EU must take action and find a solution
Sinibaldi spoke of the frustration of witnesses regarding an emergency that was so predictable: “the conditions in Moria camp have been crazy for the last 5 years,” she said. She added this is because the problem cannot be shouldered by the Greek government alone.
“A European solution must be found: it is a matter of solidarity and shared responsibility,” she said.
She explained that the European Union is currently working on a new pact on asylum and migration and expressed her hope that this accident is a warning sign “that the current model is doomed to fail and in no way must it be replicated.”
“A fair and permanent relocation system ensuring solidarity and responsibility should be put in place and all this should be in full respect of human rights, putting the person at the centre, the dignity of the person at the centre, and knowing that in this situation everyone is living in a vulnerable situation, not only those who are traditionally considered vulnerable categories. This situation calls for full solidarity for everyone,” she said.
Pope Francis’s call to ‘welcome, protect, promote and integrate’ migrants
Sinibaldi recalled Pope Francis’s powerful visit to the island of Lesbos and to Moria camp in April 2016, noting that already, in that occasion, the bad conditions in the camps for migrants and refugees where under the spotlight for all to see.
“It is disturbing," she said, "to see that since then very little has been done in terms of relocation.”
Sinibaldi said that since Tuesdsay’s fire, 400 children have been relocated to the mainland and Germany is calling loudly for a fair relocation system.
She also recalled a papal audience yesterday, in which Pope Francis addressed members of an organization working to support migrants. He reminded “us of our responsibility to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants, and that in no way people should die looking for hope and a safe place.”
“I would say that Moria is a clear example that we stopped at the first two phases of welcome and protect, and went no further than that”.
This, she continued, should serve as a stark reflection for European leaders who are asked to find a common solution.
Immediately after the fire, Cardinal Hollerich, the President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU, said that it is “Europe's dignity that went up in flames in the Moria camp.”
A shame for Europe
Sinibaldi agrees the conditions in Moria “were unbearable, worse than in other camps in much poorer parts of the world, and this is happening at the core of the European Union and this is shameful for Europe.”
Caritas Europa is calling, once again, Sinibaldi concluded, “for a system where the sharing of responsibility and solidarity of member states is recalled; where people are put at the centre of the new pact on asylum and migration” in which safe and legal pathways to access Europe are foreseen.
“There are many positive examples,” but it is not fair or just to rely on small projects without putting a fairer EU system in place.