“La honte de l’ Europe”/The shame of Europe

By Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The disaster-waiting-to-happen in the Moria Refugee/Migrant Camp in Lesvos island – “Lesbos, la honte de l’ Europe” according to Jean Ziegler’s book published in 2016 by Editions du Seuil, still looking for a Greek-language publisher – a camp planned as a short term hot-spot/reception centre for up to 3500 people that ended “hosting” more than 20.000 (when disaster struck, “down” to 13.000), has become for the last 5 days a global event. The fires that destroyed the meagre infrastructure in the camp proper as well as the makeshift tent city around it were all over front pages and TV news flashes, with refugee families and small children roaming the streets and sleeping under the olive trees, in the roadside or even in cemeteries (running water was available in the latter).

Riots also erupted among the refugee population when it became known that their calls for evacuation in mainland Greece were refused – not really unexpected, since such treatment is part and parcel of the EU-Turkey quasi defunct accord on the issue; Tear gas used by riot police was filmed and reported around the world. The same riot police had to restrain the local population of Lesvos that clamoured for the refugees/migrants to leave the island altogether (back in 2015-16, many of that same population were welcoming to the first refugee waves). NGOs who in earlier times were prompt to dispense help in crisis situations were less present – in part due to the authorities’ increasingly negative stance towards them, or at least some of them.

The shock waves in European public opinion, the empty chairs arranged in neat rows in front of the Bundestag and elsewhere in Europe to represent the 13.000 migrants languishing in Greek island camps, street demonstrations and parliamentary questioning, awakened some sort of solidarity reflexes in Europe. Half a dozen EU countries, headed by Germany, accepted to immediately give shelter and care to the 400 remaining unaccompanied minors from Moria; tents and support equipment were forwarded from Switzerland or Belgium to Lesvos; emergency aid was promised from the EU/Brussels.

But nothing is easy in such matters: for one, the replacement holding camp being put up by the Greek authorities in a vacant shooting range near Moria has been termed “a closed facility” – which is clearly frowned upon (thus, non-financeable) by the EU. And while European Commission Vice – President Margaritis Schinas recognized the lack of a European migratory policy after helicoptering over the disaster area in Moria and meeting with staff of Frontex, EASO, Europol, IOM, UNHCR and other such organisations, the road to an effective European policy on migration looks long and tortuous. Mitsotakis and Schinas may well agree that Europe cannot miss again the chance of building an adequate policy in that respect; but Ankara has got the message and is using migratory flows as its best available policy lever – up to now.