Erik Marquardt got a first-hand impression of the inhuman conditions in the Moria refugee camp, where more than 20,000 people live in the most miserable conditions. An outbreak of coronavirus would be devastating. In order to draw more attention to this issue, he has co-created the Leave no One Behind campaign.
When I arrived in Lesbos at the end of February, I thought the situation couldn’t get much worse. I wanted to spend the meeting-free week here to see how the situation on Moria has developed. This is a camp in which it can take more than a year to process an application and children cannot attend school during this time. This is a camp where people have been sleeping on the damp ground or in summer tents for four winters.
That people in the EU have to live like this is a disgrace for all of us. The situation here is not so bad because the EU could not organise it better. There is a political reason why it is so bad. Politicians want these bad conditions to act as a deterrent. But surely the aim can’t be that conditions in the camps on the external borders should be worse than in a civil war, just so that no one has the idea of fleeing to Europe?
Unfortunately, I was wrong in assuming that things could hardly get any worse. After Erdoğan announced the opening of the border and suddenly a few thousand people were on the external border, Greece reacted with force and simply suspended the basic right to asylum. The Greek coastguard started shooting at inflatable boats full of people instead of rescuing them. Boats were left in distress for hours instead of intervening immediately. A girl drowned while trying to get to Lesbos, although she could have been saved.
Right-wing extremists from all over Europe spurred on the mob to go to Lesbos. On some days more Nazis than refugees arrived on Lesbos. Far-right gangs took over the streets and patrolled the city with iron chains. Right-wing radicals were able to hunt down aid organisations, fugitives and journalists for days without police intervention. An aid station was even set on fire. The Greek constitutional state has simply failed completely.
And then it got worse. The coronavirus is spreading like wildfire in Europe. The virus does not differentiate by skin colour, religion or gender. While contact bans and curfews have been imposed all over Europe, here 20,000 people live crammed together in a camp built for 3,000 people. For every 1,300 people there is a single tap and even that is constantly breaking down. You can hardly wash your hands here, let alone practice social distancing. If the coronavirus gets to Moria, there will be no stopping it.
Member States have ways of preventing the coronavirus disaster in overcrowded refugee camps. It is surely in our interest to ensure there are no places in Europe where the virus can spread unhindered. The camps must be evacuated quickly, not in spite of, but because of coronavirus.
People must now be given quarantine facilities in places where they are protected from the virus. The Commission must coordinate the process, but Member States must lead the way and support Greece in its fight against the spread of the coronavirus. This also requires financial aid, but above all the political will to solve problems instead of always telling us what we cannot do. The Greek mainland needs support for this, as do the people on the Greek islands. For far too long we have let these citizens down.
In order to draw more attention to this issue, I have co-created the Leave no One Behind campaign. It is an initiative to get citizens from all over Europe to stand together in the coronavirus crisis and stand up for those who need our solidarity. These include the refugees on our external borders, the homeless, the old and the sick. If we do not act now, we will be complicit in the catastrophe that threatens these people.
Re-published in English from the web-site of Heinrich Boell Foundation-Brussels Office.