Today, July 28th 2021, marks the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Refugee Convention. While Europe celebrates the day, the EU continues to violate the most fundamental principles of the Convention.
Thousands of vulnerable men, women and children on Lesvos struggle to survive and protect their dignity and autonomy, yet the EU and the Greek government continue to humiliate and dehumanize them, by keeping them confined in the most degrading and inhumane conditions.
Lesvos, and the Greek islands, keep serving as the laboratory, where the EU policies on migration are exercised and tested. On December 3rd, 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the EU and Greek authorities for the construction of a new “pilot” refugee camp, a Multi Purpose Reception and Identification Center (MPRIC) on Lesvos. The Closed Controlled Structure, as the Greek government calls it, “paves the way for bringing into practice the guiding principles of the new Pact”.
However, while the European Commission emphasises their focus on the protection of refugees and human rights, with the new Pact and MoU, they institutionalize the confinement of asylum seekers at the European borders, not only on the island itself, but in isolated hotspots.
Further, by using their commitment to decongest the islands as justification, the Greek authorities closed the camps of Kara Tepe and PIKPA that formerly offered more than 1000 dignified positions, in order to build a new, expensive camp with the capacity to hold 5000 individuals.
Today, 70 years after the Convention, the EU is planning the new MPRIC at the most isolated area on Lesvos, next to the waste landfill of the island. The fact that people will be placed next to the waste landfill is of particular significance for how the Commission and the Greek government perceive the reception and protection of asylum seekers.
Moreover, while there are valid environmental and safety concerns for the location of the MPRIC, these risks are disregarded. The Greek government in 2020 amended the relevant environmental legislation1, hence an Environmental Impact Assessment is not a prerequisite to the construction of the MPRIC, where it should have been in the past.
With this decision on the location of the MPRIC, EU institutions and authorities prove that this camp will not constitute a place of dignified reception and accommodation, ensuring provision of appropriate support and health care to the population who will reach the European territory seeking protection. Quite the contrary, it becomes an issue of “Locally Unwanted Land Use”, exactly like the landfill, as a place where people will continue to suffer, as in Moria and Moria 2.0, but with their suffering being kept out of sight. Asylum seekers will be completely isolated for months or even years. This plan is not about human dignity. It is a plan of deterrence.
From the borders of Europe, we call the Commission to put an end to these dangerous policies that, in only 5 years, have turned Lesvos from the “Island of Solidarity” to a Laboratory of Growing Intolerance and Injustice.
Stop utilising refugees for political gains. Stop fueling hate and racism, through fear and the rhetoric of threats to security.
If one million refugees have caused such political unrest and have managed to turn Europe towards far right populism, how would we expect our continent to respond to the dozens of millions of climate refugees knocking the door of our borders in the years to come, as foreseen by the UN?
We call on the Commission to abandon the Fortress Europe approach and to work on inclusive policies, with respect to human rights, while also effectively tackling the root causes of migration.
 According to the Greek legislation, in order for a Reception & Identification Center to be licensed, an Environmental Impact Assessment should be done, when its capacity exceeds 750 places. However, in 2020 the government with the Ministerial Decision ΥΠΕΝ/ΔΔΥ/24593/2902/5.3.2020 (Β΄1482) has arbitrarily increased this threshold from 750 to 5000 places.