Mavrovouni / Kara Tepe ‘Reception and Identification Centre’ (RIC) Lesvos – better known as ‘Moria 2.0’ – is not fit for human habitation. Nobody should be forced to live in the mud, in a tent, by the sea, exposed to all elements. Nobody should have to live in a shelter they are forced to rebuild multiple times a day because it repeatedly collapses or floods in the current conditions of strong wind, heavy rain, hail and snow. In recent days, a cold front has brought near freezing temperatures to Lesvos, yet the Asylum Seekers Reception General Secretary, Manos Logothetis, had the gall to claim: “No one is in danger from the weather in Kara Tepe.”
7,198 people currently live in Moria 2.0. There is insufficient healthcare, privacy, food, electricity, running water, hot showers and other hygiene facilities. Only 269 toilets are operational. Measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are inadequate and physical distancing is impossible, given that camp residents have to queue to access all basic necessities.
Moria 2.0 was a military firing range from 1926 until its hasty transformation into a camp in September 2020, and the Greek government recently admitted that a high concentration of lead was found in a soil sample taken from the site. There is no level of lead exposure known to be without harmful effects. Lead poisoning causes organ damage, cancer, death. It affects the development of the nervous system and the brain, making lead exposure particularly harmful during pregnancy and for young children – who make up 37% of camp residents.
In these conditions, it is clear that far from “provid[ing] asylum seekers with an adequate standard of living that guarantees their subsistence and promotes their physical and mental health”, as required by Article 55(1) of the Greek International Protection Act (IPA), 4636/2019 and Articles 17-18 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU, reception conditions on Lesvos reach the level of inhuman and degrading treatment.  Far from “ensuring that specialised care and protection will be provided to those who belong to vulnerable populations”, or that their “special reception conditions” will be covered, as mandated by Articles 39(5)(d) and Article 58(2) of IPA 4636/2019 implementing Articles 21-22 2013/33/EU, reception conditions on Lesvos amount to an attack on “vulnerable” migrants’ non-derogable right to life.
The Head of the Reception and Identification Centre is legally obliged to lift geographical restriction to Lesvos for “vulnerable persons or persons who need special reception conditions[…] if they cannot be provided with appropriate support” on the island.  Yet Greek authorities are systematically failing to transfer “vulnerable” people to the mainland where their specific needs can be met. For this reason, on Tuesday 9 February, LCL submitted a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman urging action to redress the denial of healthcare and adequate reception conditions for 21 LCL clients and their families, whose urgent medical needs have been systematically ignored by the Greek authorities. This complaint follows months of requests for transfer, months of emails to the vulnerability focal point, months of abject failure to attend to the urgent needs of people with acute and deteriorating health conditions.
COVID-19 is no excuse. The restrictions on movement related to the pandemic contain clear exceptions for medical care, meaning Greek and EU nationals are able to travel to the mainland in this way.  Administrative status is no excuse, since the right to life is non-derogable under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 5 of the Greek Constitution, which explicitly guarantees “all persons living within the Greek territory shall enjoy full protection of their life, honour and liberty irrespective of nationality, race or language and of religious or political beliefs.”
The categories of people applying for international protection the Greek state considers to be “vulnerable” are listed at Article 39(5)(d) of IPA 3646/2019, as amended by Article 2 of 4686/2020: “minors, unaccompanied minors, direct relatives of shipwreck victims, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and survivors of torture, rape or other forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence or exploitation, such as victims of female genital mutilation.”
‘Vulnerability’ is not a static category even in law. Prior to the entry into force of the IPA in January 2020, the previous asylum law included people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the above list, under Article 14(8) of Greek Law 4375/2016. Among other regressive changes hardening Greek asylum law,  including the removal of protections precluding ‘vulnerable’ individuals from fast-track border procedures, the state quietly removed people with PTSD from the list. These changes in Greek asylum law came after roughly 80% of asylum seekers in Lesvos in 2018 were designated ‘vulnerable’.
Harm is caused by the specific forms of violence you have survived not being recognised, either because they are not legible to the law, or because the authorities assessing your vulnerability question your credibility and deny that you have survived such trauma. Harm is also caused by having to constantly re-live and perform trauma before state authorities, in order to fit into one of these categories. Harm is caused by the fact that even where people clearly fall into one of these vulnerability categories it changes nothing about their material conditions, given the constant lack of medical actors to identify people’s specific needs and the systematic failure of Greek authorities to act even where such needs are identified.
This list of ‘vulnerable’ categories – which implements a very similar list mandated by EU Directive  – makes it sound as though people who fall within them are somehow inherently weak. It functions, as law generally does, to distribute both resources and values in accordance with a hierarchy created by its categories: deserving, less deserving, undeserving; victim to be saved, criminal to be deported – categories which come with gendered and racialized notions of who needs Europe’s ‘protection’ and who should be excluded. “Vulnerable” points to the individual, where it is more accurate to point to the deliberately violent and inhumane material conditions people are forced to live in here in Lesvos, and in the other Greek island ‘hotspots’, which expose them disproportionately to harm.
Pregnant women, for example, are not inherently vulnerable in warm, safe homes, with access to sanitation, hygiene facilities, and medical support. But living in Moria 2.0 pregnant women have to stand up all day in queues to access food, or to use a toilet, or to consult a doctor; and all the while they are exposed to toxic lead poisoning known to particularly harm the development of foetuses. One client of the Legal Centre Lesvos who currently lives in Moria 2.0 is 8 months pregnant and suffers from seizures related to nerve damage caused by shrapnel in her mouth, back, legs and arms – a war injury. She has a referral from the General Hospital of Mytilene for medical examination in Athens. She has been waiting for months to be transferred. She previously had a miscarriage and is understandably terrified that this will happen again if she cannot access the treatment she has been referred for. She experiences numbness down the right side of her body approximately every other day and has seizures around every 2 weeks. Instead of transferring her and her family to the mainland, the camp authorities recently moved the family into another tent in Moria 2.0, shared with more people.
Children are not inherently vulnerable either, living in safety, with access to education, adequate nutrition and care. But the dangerous living conditions in Moria 2.0 pose a disproportionate risk of harm to children. Lead poisoning particularly harms children’s development. One child whose family are LCL clients lives in Moria 2.0, in a tent by the sea. Since the family’s traumatic sea crossing and arrival in Greece, the child has been attempting self harm. He is 6 years old. At night, alone, he wanders out of the tent and walks towards the sea. His parents do not sleep at night so that they can watch over him, to prevent this from happening. Instead of being provided appropriate accommodation the family were recently moved to a tent within Moria 2.0 situated even closer to the sea.
Nobody should be forced to live in a camp, not here in Lesvos, not anywhere, not ever. Everyone’s specific needs should be recognised and provided for. The provisions and categories that exist in both Greek and European law are manifestly inadequate. But the Greek state’s failure to even act in accordance with these laws, to transfer people who are disproportionately exposed to danger and death in the inhuman conditions of Moria 2.0 to appropriate medical care and accommodation on the mainland, amounts to an attack on migrants’ lives.