​Mória: the ongoing crisis

by Maria Kounelaki - PPE student at the University of York

OCTOBER 6th, 2021
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Famine. War. Fire. A violation of rights. A reality that the refugees of Mória Refugee Camp have had to live. But how did this all happen? To understand this question, we need to look at 2014, the year that marked the start of the European refugee crisis. 

According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by the end of 2020, 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events that caused serious public order. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are children.The majority of the refugees are from the Middle East and Northern African countries with many of them heading to coastal countries, all in pursuit of a better life away from violence and corruption. However, due to the sheer volume of refugees, these coastal countries have had difficulties accommodating these increased numbers of people which has led to overcrowded camps and inefficient methods of integrating them into the reception country.

A recent example of a country that has received many refugees despite not having the appropriate infrastructure is Greece and the camp of Mória on the island of Lesvos. Mória Reception and Identification Centre, better known as Mória Refugee Camp or just Mória was built to accommodate around 3,000 people. However, by the summer of 2020, there were around 20,000 people living in the camp, among whom 6,000 to 7,000 were children under the age of 18. After being enclosed with barbed wire and a chain-link fence, the military camp served as a European Union “hotspot”, hence, it has been characterised by the field coordinator of Doctors Without Borders as “the worst refugee camp on earth”. Many international agencies and non-profit organisations have conducted research on this camp to observe the conditions and the rights that are being severely violated with the hope of establishing new policies to improve the existing situation. The results of these inquiries highlight the difficulties and inhumane living conditions of these people. 

 

Asylum seekers and refugees are entitled to all the rights and fundamental freedoms that have been established by the international human rights agencies. Such rights include the right to sanitation, to adequate housing and to basic public health measures. It has been reported that Mória Refugee Camp has only 90 toilets and 90 showers, and 1 tap per 1,300 people. The people there live in a tent without enough water, or heating for the cold months. Additionally, during research on Lesvos the Human Rights Watch found that women and girls in and around Mória lack safe access to essential resources and services including shelter, food, water, and medical care. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, a high risk of transmission was identified among refugees and asylum seekers in reception facilities in Greece, with the camp of Mória having 228 outbreaks in the first 4 months. 

 

In addition to all these basic human rights violations in the Mória refugee camp, there are additional fundamental refugee and asylum seekers rights that are not being respected up until this day. Under the 1951 Convention, the right of non-refoulement was formed, which contributes to the refugee protection. According to this, a country receiving asylum seekers cannot return them to a country in which they would be in danger of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. This applies not only in respect of return to the country of origin or but in the case of a stateless person, to the country of former habitual residence. However, this protection can only be given to people who have been granted 

refugee status and to those who have not yet formalised their status. In the case of Mória, the identification of the people living there is a highly time-consuming task for the Greek authorities, and especially difficult for children who usually do not carry any official documents, which leads to many not being given the opportunity to even start this protection process. This in return makes it is almost impossible to be granted refugee status, due to lack of documentation and consideration. 

 

The freedom of movement, encompassing the right of individuals to travel from place to place within the territory of a country, to leave the country and return to it, is another human right that has not been respected. For the purpose of the speedy processing and return of refugees to Turkey, the EU signed a deal with Tukey. Unfortunately, though, under the EU-Turkey deal, Greece has adopted a “containment policy” that traps people in under-resourced camps on the Aegean islands while awaiting the outcome of their asylum claims or return, which can take months or even years. Following that, the refugees cannot be moved from Greece to other countries or territories until they get their status. And yet, despite these rules, there have been recorded cases of abuse from the Greek authorities and total deportations to other countries. Moreover, the Greek government is required to provide accommodation and adequate infrastructure to asylum-seekers, but currently these people live under awful conditions which pose a threat to their health and their security. The fire outbreak in the Mória camp highlighted in the most horrible way the ineffective handling of the situation from the Greek and the European government.

 

To help with the refugee crisis many non-governmental aid organisations have been established. The organization “Sphere” was created in 1997. It has developed and published the Humanitarian and Minimum Standards booklet, which aims to inform all humanitarian action and supports accountability across all sectors. Additionally, the UN developed the Inter-Agency Standing Committee to prevent Gender-Based Violence in these camps and to provide the best possible humanitarian action. Finally, the Red Cross has raised thousands of funds to build better facilities and to secure safe access to water and sanitation.

Yet, despite this call to action, the refugee crisis is an ongoing phenomenon and the number of people displaced is increasing every day. The help that the organisations, the Greek government, the EU and the UN give is not nearly enough to cover the needs in those camps. Progress is being made as more money is being raised to send help and every year more and more people volunteer to improve the quality of the refugee’s lives. No one can tell when this crisis will be over, but it is important to help in any way possible.