The threat of a COVID-19 pandemic could have finally been an opportunity to decongest the camps and transfer people to Greece and elsewhere in Europe. But despite consistent calls from civil society and people across Europe, the response of Greece and Europe has been the opposite. The camps were put under lockdown. People found themselves abandoned, trapped and exposed in degrading, inhuman conditions without any basic protection in the midst of a pandemic.
After 6 months of lockdown, COVID-19 started to spread in a camp without a public healthcare plan, without a COVID-19 unit, without basic sanitation, without proper food. The only response from the Greek government was to lock up the camp and carry out some testing, confirming more positive cases but no secure isolation area to transfer the people. People reached their limits. Let there be no mistake: the Greek government and the European Union have ignited and fed this fire, with their inhumane, degrading policies of abandonment and containment.
And we fear it is not over yet: they are still feeding the fire. Politicians and government officials are already using the opportunity to further demonise refugees and push their repressive agenda and toxic discourse, just as they did with the COVID-19 pandemic. Fake news and hate mongering are tearing the local society in Lesvos apart.
As a result, over 12.000 men, women and children are re-traumatised and left without any protection and support. This includes over 4,000 children and around 400 unaccompanied children, as well as pregnant women and elderly people.
We are facing a state of emergency, in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic affecting both the local and the refugee population, at a point when the local hospital is already overwhelmed and the government hasn’t done anything substantial to support Lesvos with the COVID-19 response. This also comes at a moment of growing hate and violence in Lesvos against refugees and anybody supporting them, promoted and condoned by the authorities.
Hate, polarisation and violence are spreading across Europe like wildfire. We don’t want to hear any more expressions of sympathy from political leaders and European Institutions, after years of empty promises. They must act to put out the fire and build something new, and finally treat people on the move like people again, with dignity and respect for their rights. This must be a turning point.
We are calling on the authorities to do anything possible to protect and support the people who had to flee Moria camp, and to finally respond to the urgent calls for a COVID-19 public health care response to protect all people living in Lesvos. In a context of emergency, the police force must do everything they can to protect people and help ensure a safe and calm environment. They must refrain from any violence or repression in their response. Any attempts or acts to hamper or obstruct humanitarian work or monitoring should be avoided and condemned. The fire in Moria camp must not be instrumentalised to promote a toxic and racist discourse, demonise refugees and further spread hate and fake news. All people who were living in Moria camp, and all people trapped in camps in the Greek islands, must be evacuated to a safe place, including through relocation across Europe.