Author: Maja Bogojević (Vienna Master of Human Rights)
Rat Bites. Rape. Flooding. In the “Moria 2” refugee camp on Lesbos, almost 10,000 people are
currently living in inhumane conditions. There are no ways to protect oneself from the threat of the
COVID-19 virus, as there is both a lack of access to water and to hygiene products.
After a fire burned down the “Moria” refugee camp in September 2020, the conditions in the newly built camp aggravated, with the Commissioner of the Council of Europe calling on the Greek authorities to provide adequate support to the ones affected by the fire. Since then, activists, refugees and international organizations such as the UNHCR demand for an immediate evacuation of people from the Greek Island Lesbos. Furthermore, numerous actors, including civil-society organizations and politicians sharply criticize the conditions in “Moria 2”, calling it a “symbol for unresolved refugee policy”. With approximately 10.000 people living in a camp designed for 3,700 people, the circumstances do not meet human rights standards the sanitary facilities are dirty, there is hardly any access to water and doctors had to leave the camp due to the changes brought about by COVID-19. Furthermore, the flooding in the camp endanger all and newly-borns suffer rat bites.
Omid Alizadah is a pharmacist and has been living in “Moria” and “Moria 2” together with
his family for almost 14 months. Despite the inhumane conditions, he founded the “Moria
Corona Awareness Team” in order to inform other residents of the camp about protective
measures. Above all, he criticizes the overcrowding of the camp and the possibility of
avoiding close contact. According to Mr. Alizadah, only a few masks and soap are distributed,
as well as lacking adequate access to water and medical care. By handing out posters, he and
other team members try to reach people who have little medical knowledge and who have not
yet learned of the rapid spread of the coronavirus through the media. Alex the press spokeswoman for “Seebrücke Berlin”, is also extremely critical of the conditions in the camps: “There is one toilet for 250 people, only a few showers and at the moment the water is completely switched off as we hear”. As a result, the residents of the camp are entirely at the mercy of the situation.
Both Alex and Mr. Alizadah see the evacuation of the refugees from “Moria 2” as the only
option. According to Mr. Alizadah, even those countries with sufficient access to technical
and medical equipment have difficulties in reducing the number of infections, so that it will
be impossible in crowded camps. Although the group of old, sick and young people is
particularly affected, it is not enough to just evacuate children, says Alex. She adds that there
are around 40,000 people who are on the various Greek islands and refugee camps: “Nobody
can tell me that there are real practical reasons for the lacking support”.
Both experts formulate a great responsibility for the European Union and the German and Austrian government, since the concerns of refugees have not been considered for years. Alex speaks of irresponsibility and emphasizes the complicity in the death of many people, which “will inevitably happen if we don’t act quickly”. UNHCR, too, emphasize the urgency: “Rapid and decisive measures are needed to prevent a further deterioration in living conditions in the camp and to prepare the accommodation for the onset of winter”.
Mr. Alizadah also emphasizes the importance of international solidarity and warns: “You know, the people here are still alive and have a chance to survive. But if there is no action now, the chance is very small if Corona comes into the camp”. While politicians speak of cohesion and solidarity in times of Corona in the news, activists locally and internationally try to translate this into practical solidarity.
(Digital) protests such as #Leavenoonebehind10 and awareness raising campaigns motivate
both Alex and Omid. They claim that it helps to get out of the feeling of hopelessness.
Moreover, Alex is sceptical towards the discourse around solidarity: “I also see a danger in
the fact that this concept of solidarity is totally devalued. You have to counter it by criticizing
those empty words and demand actual, practical solidarity”.