Overcrowded refugee camp could become Coronavirus disaster, says MEP Erik Marquardt

Written by Erik Marquardt on 9 April 2020 in Opinion
Opinion

The EU cannot keep avoiding the refugee and asylum problems on Europe’s external borders, warns the Greens/EFA deputy.

MEP Erik Marquardt | Photo credit: Office of Erik Marquardt


When I arrived in Lesbos at the end of February, I didn’t think that the situation could get much worse.

I wanted to spend a week here to see how conditions in the Moria refugee camp - where people have been sleeping on the damp ground or in summer tents for four winters – currently stand.

The fact that people in the EU have to live like this is an absolute disgrace. The situation here is not this bad as a result of the EU’s ineptitude or disorganisation; it’s this bad because this is what was politically desired.


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Some politicians want to stop people coming to Europe and applying for asylum. Such terrible conditions are there intentional.

But surely it cannot be the EU's wish that the conditions in the camps on its external borders should be worse than those in a civil war, simply to prevent anyone having the idea of fleeing to Europe.

Unfortunately, I was wrong when I assumed things could not get any worse. After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unilaterally opened his country’s borders, resulting in a few thousand people approaching the Greek/Turkish external border, Greece reacted with violence and suspended the basic right to asylum.

"The fact that people in the EU have to live like this is an absolute disgrace. The situation here is not this bad as a result of the EU’s ineptitude or disorganisation; it’s this bad because this is what was politically desired"

Meanwhile, the Greek coastguard started shooting at rubber dinghies full of refugees instead of rescuing them. They left boats in distress for hours instead of intervening immediately. A young girl drowned trying to reach Lesbos when she could have been saved.

Right-wing extremists from across Europe have mobilised the mob to Lesbos. On some days, there are more Nazis than refugees arriving on the island.

Extremist right-wing gangs were allowed to control the streets for days, patrolling the city with iron chains, hunting down aid organisations, fugitives and journalists, without any fear of police intervention. One aid centre was even set on fire.

And then it got worse. Coronavirus is spreading very rapidly in Europe and it doesn’t differentiate by skin colour, religion or gender.

While contact bans and curfews are being imposed across Europe, here in Moria, 20,000 people are crammed together in a camp that was built for 3,000.

There is only one water tap for every 1,300 inhabitants. You struggle to wash your hands here, let alone practice social distancing. When the Coronavirus comes to Moria, it is unlikely to be easily stopped.

EU Member States have ways of preventing the Coronavirus disaster in overcrowded refugee camps. It is surely in our interests to ensure we do not allow the virus to spread unchecked. The refugee camps must be evacuated quickly - not in spite of, but because of, the Coronavirus pandemic.

People must now be provided with quarantine facilities where they are protected from the virus.

"While contact bans and curfews are being imposed across Europe, here in Moria, 20,000 people are crammed together in a camp that was built for 3,000"

The European Commission should coordinate this process, but EU Member States must lead the way and help Greece combat the spread of the virus.

It requires financial aid, but above all, it takes political will to solve problems instead of forever telling people what we cannot do. The Greek mainland needs support in this, as do the people on the Greek islands. For far too long we have let these people down.

In order to raise awareness of the issue, I have become involved in the "Leave No One behind" campaign, an initiative to get citizens from across Europe to stick together during the Coronavirus crisis and stand up for those people who need our solidarity.

This includes refugees at our external borders, the homeless, the old and the sick. If we don’t act now, we will be to blame.

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