ONE YEAR AFTER THE MORIA FIRES

NO LESSONS LEARNT AND NO RESPONSIBILITY TAKEN

One year after the fires that destroyed the infamous Moria hotspot camp in Lesvos, and the various political promises that followed – including that there would be โ€œNo more Moriasโ€ – the immiserating living conditions forced on migrants arriving to Lesvos continue as before, if not worse, just in a different location on the island. 

Far from reconsidering the containment approach and the confinement of people to camps on the islands, Greece and the European Union (EU) have agreed the extension and entrenchment of this deadly model through the construction of new closed โ€œmulti-purposeโ€ camps on the Eastern Aegean islands, where migrants will be concentrated in the future. 

A man walking through the burnt remains of Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, September 2020.
Photo Credit: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

Rather than recognising that the fires of Moria were the inevitable product of the hotspot approach and its deadly camp infrastructures which should – in no circumstances – be reproduced,  the Greek authorities have continued to put all their efforts towards the progressive closure of all existing alternative and safe accommodations available in Lesvos, including for minors, families and people with vulnerabilities or medical conditions. Meanwhile, the โ€œtemporaryโ€ Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) hastily built in the Mavrovouni area (also known as โ€œMoria 2.0โ€) – on land contaminated with lead, and leased for five years – has become the sole site in which people seeking asylum are contained, in similar inhumane conditions with inadequate shelter, poor sanitation, and little access to health care or legal support.

The EU and Greek authorities have failed to recognise their clear responsibility for the creation, extension and ultimate destruction of the deadly hotspot camp of Moria. Instead, the Greek state conveniently arrested six young Afghan migrants and presented them as the sole culprits of  the fires, attempting to divert the public debate from the issue of the living conditions inside the camp and the political responsibility. 

It should be recalled that the fires took place at a time when the number of people living in Moria camp had reached over 12,000 (despite an official capacity of 3,100), when movement restrictions had been in place for almost six months, and a growing fear of COVID-19 was spreading inside the camp – without any appropriate step taken by the camp management to protect people forced to live there from contracting the virus. The Greek authorities had violently cracked down on camp residentsโ€™ protests against the lack of public health measures by blocking the roads around the camp, isolating its residents, and firing tear gas and smoke bombs.

Just one week prior to the fires, on 2 September 2020, the first person in the camp tested positive for the virus. Instead of moving infected people out of the camp, deploying medical staff or adopting hygiene measures for the people trapped inside, the Greek authorities announced the total lockdown of the camp, with entry and exit explicitly prohibited for 14 days for all those other than security personnel. That same day, the Greek Ministry for Migration signed a contract worth almost one million Euros to begin the campโ€™s conversion into a closed, controlled centre. 

Not only are the authorities denying any responsibility for the crime of Moria, but the six young Afghans were presented by the Greek authorities as guilty from the moment of their arrest and unsurprisingly sentenced to prison after undergoing unfair and unjust trials, reinforcing the impression of a premeditated decision.

Only one week after the fires, the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum stated that โ€œthe camp was set on fire by six Afghan refugees who were arrestedโ€, already violating their right to the presumption of innocence. Five of the six accused were minors when they were arrested, but only two of them were officially recognised as such. Those two recognized minors were tried before the Juvenile Court in Mytilene (Lesvos) and sentenced to five years in prison in March 2021, despite lack of evidence and a hastily convened court hearing that flouted basic procedural standards. The four others, including three unrecognized minors, were unanimously sentenced to ten years of imprisonment in June 2021 by the Mixed Jury Court of Chios, despite extensive evidence that mitigated against their guilt. Their conviction was based solely on one written testimony, of dubious accuracy, of a resident of Moria camp, who disappeared before the trial and apparently could not be located to appear in Court. 

In this trial, none of the defense lawyersโ€™ objections were granted by the Court – not about the unjustified exclusion of the public, observers and journalists from the courtroom, nor about the fact that the indictment was never translated to the accused in a language that they understand, nor even about the demonstration of three of the fourโ€™s minority status at the time of their arrest. In violation of Ministerial Decision 3390/13-08-2020, governing age assessment procedures, the court rejected original identity documents proving the minority status of the accused and instead based their age assessment on the โ€œexpertโ€ opinion of a social scientist with a criminology and anthropology background who claimed, based on X-rays of the defendantsโ€™ hands, that the three were adults. 

Since then, the lawyers representing the three minors have twice requested access to these X-rays in May and July 2021, from the Greek Social Security agency (EFKA), such to submit them to a specialised doctor and obtain an independent and qualified medical opinion about their age.  Those requests have so far gone unanswered.

The inhumane living conditions that were imposed on people in the hell of Moria โ€“ otherwise recognised by all participants in the trials – were also ignored by the courts to reduce the defendantsโ€™ sentence. Putting aside the obvious and shameless lack of fair trial observed in the case of the six accused of the Moria fires โ€“ which sooner or later will be scrutinized by higher institutions โ€“ one should question the criminal and civil liability of the Greek and EU authorities involved in the creation of the hotspot camps, like Moria, Mavrovouni and the upcoming closed camps which will replace them. 

There has been no justice for most of the families of those who died in Moria RIC, or for the tens of thousands of people subjected to the campโ€™s institutional disregard for their lives. There has been no redress for those whose health deteriorated due to their prolonged containment in inhumane and unsanitary conditions; for those who were subjected to violence, insecurity, sexual and other forms of abuse; for the children denied access to education, safe shelter, or adequate nutrition, refused access to support, or otherwise left to fend for themselves; for those who still live with the post-traumatic disorders resulting from their effective detention in this hell on earth. There has been no recognition, by responsible authorities, of their role in causing and compounding the trauma of those already subjected to persecution and insecurity, of their deliberate subjection of thousands of people to torturous and degrading treatment to serve the sole purpose of upholding Europeโ€™s violent borders. 

Quite the opposite: โ€œno more Morias,โ€ as expected, was an empty promise. Mavrovouni camp is Moria 2.0: built to ensure the containment and exclusion of migrants, built to demonstrate that Fortress Europe will pay no mind to the safety, rights or lives of migrants, regardless of whatever political promises are made. Moreover, across the Eastern Aegean islands, the logic of Moria is only deepening: closed multi-purpose reception and identification centers are being built, fully funded and politically ordained by the European Union, that will ensure the expanded detention of migrants and the continued infliction of violence against them.

The construction of these camps continues Greek and European authoritiesโ€™ violent crimes towards migrants, intertwined with their practices of expulsion, deportation, and externalisation. But the Moria fires one year ago demonstrated that these policies are doomed to failure, and will inevitably meet the same result. 

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