Paul Workman: The Shame of Lesbos


LONDON, UK – Five men have been arrested for burning down a camp for refugees so miserable that they chose to destroy the place rather than stay there for another day. What is their crime?

The Moria camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, was dirty, hopelessly overcrowded and dangerous – a stain on Europe’s reputation. And now he’s gone forever.

Despite all the short-term suffering caused by the fire, few people are sorry.

Thirteen thousand migrants were crammed into a space believed to contain 3,000 – imprisoned there, banned from traveling until their asylum claims were cleared. Failed, and often for a very long time.

The volcano has erupted.

Self-immolation is probably not the right description, but neither is arson. It was an uprising, long to do. A riot in prison by people who had never been convicted of anything.

The Greek Minister of Civil Protection offered rare honesty about the appalling conditions in Moria and the moral failure of Europe.

“It was a camp of shame,” he admitted. “Now that is history. It will be cleaned up and replaced by olive groves.

What an intriguing thought. To see olive trees rising from the ashes of such a notorious human enclosure.

The idea for 2016 was to relocate thousands of migrants across Europe and generously share the burden. It was a disaster.

Moria camp grew and became infected, and many believe it was the intention, to make conditions so miserable that migrants would stop coming. Artificial deterrence, tacit of course.

If it did, it obviously didn’t work because the fragile and crowded boats kept coming in until Lesvos was overwhelmed. And Europe let that happen.

In the aftermath of the fire, a new temporary camp has been set up and migrants are being encouraged to settle, but there is resistance.

“It’s a terrifying prospect,” one aid worker told me.

“There is a lot of fear of going to the camps and not getting out.”

The Greek Minister of Civil Protection has made a bold prediction that seems overly optimistic given the busy history of Camp Moria.

“They will all leave,” he said, and the island of Lesvos will be empty of migrants by Easter.

If they can do it now, why couldn’t they have done it before?

“This could and should be a watershed moment,” said the aid worker I spoke to. Since when does a disastrous fire become a turning point?

Germany offered to welcome 1,500 people from the camp, more or less alone, as before. The right-wing Austrian Prime Minister has none of it.

A week after the fire, almost all of the 13,000 migrants still live on the edges of the roads and rugged fields of Lesbos, full of suspicion, and fearing a “new Moria”, a new prison in their future.


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