Saturday

19th Sep 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.

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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".

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