Thursday

1st Oct 2020

EUobserved

Moria is EU's shame

The world's wealthiest nations that make up the European Union can no longer pretend it bears no responsibility for Moria.

Earlier this week, the camp on the Greek island of Lesbos burned to the ground following an outbreak of Covid-19. Greek authorities are already blaming the fire on the migrants, promising to deport those responsible.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But the palpable frustrations among the thousands stuck in the open-air like prison, alongside local island residents, turned the camp into Europe's shame a long time ago.

The saga is a sorry tale of policy decisions, false promises, legal wrangling, and a backlash against asylum seekers and migrants that erupted following the arrival to the EU of some one million people in 2015.

Those arrivals helped spark populist and far-right movements, whose anti-immigrant vitriol slowly took over more mainstream political circles.

The European Commission at the time tried to overhaul the EU-wide asylum system - but met with stiff resistance after a handful of member states abandoned Greece and Italy, the main points of arrival for migrants and asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa.

Statements of solidarity and the defence of European values appeared increasingly meaningless in the face of realities playing out on the ground and most capitals. Hungary took the lead in viewing migrants as a national security threat, a move that gained traction elsewhere.

The father of the hotspot

In the mix was also a disconnect of policy-makers in Brussels from the brewing toxic political rhetoric against migrants. Among them was Giulo di Blasi, the self-described father of the hotspot concept.

"I am a little bit the originator and father of the 'hotspots' in the European Commission," di Blasi, a European Commission official with some gusto told a hotel conference room full of security experts in May 2016.

Di Blasi went on to explain that the hotspots are like a central pump, a heart, from where everything flows. People arrive, are screened, fingerprinted, get medical checks, and then enter an asylum demand or are returned home.

He painted a picture of the hotspot as a means to demonstrate to the wider public the logistical qualities of the European Union in dealing with migration.

"If there is one thing the European public is fearful of, it is mishandling and disorganisation," he said at the time.

"All this day-to-day management is new to the European Union. I think it shows that the Union is trying to respond at the request of the citizens to be on the ground and not only in the 'Ivory Tower' of Brussels," he said.

"It is a very challenging job and also an interesting one and one I think is slowly shaping the future of the European migration policy."

Di Blasi's premonition was correct but in ways he could not have imagined.

His hotspots were then dovetailed into an EU deal with Turkey to prevent refugees from arriving on the Greek islands. Billions of euros in EU funds were exchanged for political concessions in Ankara, in an agreement whose legal value is the equivalent of a press release.

Unable to return people arriving on the islands to Turkey without due process, the camp of 3,000 in Moria quickly spilled over. Locals had welcomed many with open arms and Greek volunteers were given awards for their efforts.

But soon national experts sent to Moria from member states like Belgium began pulling their personnel out of the camps.

And in the morning hours of one day in early January 2017, thousands in Moria woke up covered in snow - in scenes that made a mockery of the Ivory Tower in Brussels.

"Ensuring adequate reception conditions in Greece is a responsibility of Greek authorities," responded the European Commission, in the wake of the snowfall.

The EU had effectively abandoned "the day-to-day management" of Moria, only six months after the so-called father of the hotspot concept promoted it as a beating heart of EU migration policy.

Today, after years of neglecting the human catastrophe in the camp, the EU has not only abandoned the camp regardless of token measures. It abandoned every aspect of humanity it always pretended to stand for.

Interview

Refugee who witnessed Moria fire describes 'hell'

Yousif Al Shewaili, a 21-year old from Iraq who obtained refugee status, witnessed the fires that struck Moria on Tuesday evening. He recounted that at least two people may have died.

Commission silent on Greece suspending asylum claims

Greece is now "Europe's shield" said the European Commission, as it shores up border patrols on the Turkish border. But when it comes to Greece suspending asylum claims, the same institution was unable to comment.

Asylum conditions on Greek islands 'untenable'

Germany is preparing to send people back to Greece with the EU's blessing, even though the EU commission has described snow-covered migrant camps on Greek islands as "untenable".

New EU migration pact 'to keep people in their country'

The European Commission's long-awaited pact on migration and asylum is now set to be unveiled on 23 September. Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas has likened it to a "house with three floors".

Analysis

'Sponsored returns' may shuffle failed asylum seekers around EU

The European Commission is banking on cooperation and coordination among EU states to help makes its new migration and asylum pact viable. But its plan is already being greeted with suspicion by more hardline anti-migrant countries like Austria and Hungary.

News in Brief

  1. China closer to EU than US on climate, Merkel says
  2. UK offers EU fishermen three years' access
  3. Finnish PM to stand in for Sweden at summit
  4. Commission: EU does not finance Italy's 'contraband' warship
  5. EU expects US data-privacy breakthrough
  6. Czechs and Slovaks declare second-wave 'emergency'
  7. Merkel to meet Belarus opposition head
  8. Czechs appeal to EU commission over Poland's illegal mining

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

Michael Spindelegger, the former minister of foreign affairs of Austria and current director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), reveals some of the proposals in the European Commission's upcoming pact on migration and asylum.

EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece

Over 120 asylum seeking children and teenagers in Greece have so far been relocated to a handful of EU states in a scheme the European Commission says is a demonstration of solidarity. EU states have pledged to take in 2,000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. Paper tiger? EU roars in first rule-of-law report
  2. Corruption failures also highlighted in rule of law report
  3. Unsung hero: Portugal showing EU way on migration
  4. Celebrate with us. EUobserver's 20 years of independent EU news
  5. Ban on Catalan leader condemned as 'disproportionate'
  6. EU defends Jourova over Hungary's resignation demand
  7. A 'geopolitical' EU Commission. Great idea - but when?
  8. The EU's new rule of law report - pushing at an open door?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us