Aid agencies have longed warned of dire conditions at Moria, Europe’s largest migrant camp where more than 12,500 people live in around a facility built to house just over 2,750. The camp is housing those fleeing violence and poverty in the middle East, Africa, and Afghanistan. It has become a symbol of what critics say is Europe’s failure to humanely handle the migrant situation. (euro news 2020).
The worst happened when a large fire in September 2020 destroyed the overcrowded facility on the Greek island of Lesbos leaving nearly 13,000 people mostly those wishing to seek asylum in different European countries without shelter.
This brought a more serious and difficult situation into a humanitarian disaster. Sanitation problems in the midst of a pandemic like the covid 19 are just a few of the many challenges facing the asylum seekers who feel abandoned by Europe they hoped for a better life when they crossed the sea to reach Greece which is a gate way to Europe. The migrants are equally feeling frustrated and depressed especially as the local population is hostile towards them. It is extremely getting more challenging for families with children as well as unaccompanied minors.
Amnesty international’s migration researcher Adriana Tidona said “reckless EU policies” were to blame for over crowding in Moria. Under the 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey designed to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants, those arriving on Greek island like Lesbos from nearby Turkish coast are held there pending either deportation back to Turkey or the acceptance of their asylum claims. Though the deal dramatically reduced the flow, delays in processing asylum claims and continued arrival of hundreds of asylum seekers led the island camp to quickly exceed their capacity. Successive Greek governments have urged other European countries to share the burden.
European authorities who have often been criticised for not doing enough to ease the burden on southern countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain where majority of the immigrants arrive were offered some help. For example, Germany offered to take in close to 1,500 migrants from the Greek island after the fire disaster while Finland was also well prepared to take in a certain number of asylum seekers from the Mediterranean.
The experience and opinion shared by our working life partner Anna Hyytiäinen working for Sininauhasäätiö at Mosaiikki also inspired me to write this blog. Her organisation provides support to asylum seekers through aspects like offering information about the public and third sector services they have access to, help with access to services, and support in difficult situations. Ensuring that the fundamental rights of asylum seekers are being taken into consideration irrespective of their paperless status in Finland.
She explained during our discussion that, while it is challenging for many European countries, more must follow the example of Germany and Finland who agreed to take in asylum seekers from the Mediterranean. She further explained that asylum seekers themselves hardly plan to seek asylum in Europe living behind love ones, jobs, property and a life they cherished in their respective countries.
However, civil wars, persecution and many other conflicts puts them in a situation where they have no choice but to seek asylum in countries where there is peace. Her organisation does not have the influence or powers to decide reception of asylum seekers in the EU. But then, taking in asylum seekers should not be a political decision but a great humanitarian gesture by all European countries. The rise of populist governments in certain European countries today with harsh policies to asylum only worsens the situation at the shores of Europe.