The fire that destroyed Europe’s largest refugee camp has been burning since 2015

This piece was written by aspiring journalist Lilia Sebouai. She tackles the ongoing refugee crisis, specifically the horrific events that have recently occurred in Moria, one of Europe’s largest refugee camps. A well-crafted and emotive read on an essential topic. You can find Lilia on Instagram: @liliasebouai. LW


You have to understand,

That no one puts their children in a boat

Unless the water is safer than the land

No one burns their palms

Under trains

Beneath carriages

No one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

Feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled means something more than the journey.

(an extract from ‘Home’, a poem by Somali-British writer Warsan Shire.)

I was first made aware of the refugee crisis when the harrowing picture of the body of 3-year old Alan Kurdi lying face-down on a Turkish beach went viral in 2015. This photo shook the world and it certainly opened my eyes to the tragedy that was occurring right on our doorsteps.

I was struck with the realisation that the negative perception of refugees projected by governments throughout Europe, fueled by racism and Islamaphobia, had been constructed to spur a public hostility towards migrants. I finally recognized that these ‘immigrants’ were in fact refugees seeking asylum, they were human beings fleeing war and conflict, they were people just like us desperately trying to claim their human rights. It is heartbreaking that five years later these victims of war are still desperately trying to find safety. The refugee crisis is still very much in crisis.

Last week, Europe’s largest refugee camp was reduced to ashes. The Moria camp on the island of Lesbos in Northern Greece was widely recognized as the ‘worst’ camp that there is, known as ‘the jungle’ by its residents. Originally built to deal with the colossal influx of migrants who came to Europe from Turkey in 2015, Moria was designed to accommodate 3,000 people. By the time of the fire last week, the camp was more than 200% overcapacity, its inhabitants living in flimsy tents amid streams of sewage, with little access to electricity or clean water.

The purpose of Moria was to dehumanize. It was designed to deter future asylum seekers and to shatter the idealised image of Europe as a welcoming safe haven. The government’s insistence that demonstrating any kind of humanity towards refugees would serve as a “pull-factor” is the primary cause of their xenophobic aim to make the lives of undocumented migrants as miserable as possible.

When multiple fires ravaged through the camp on 9th September, almost 13,000 people, including 4,000 children, that once lived in Moria were left homeless and in desperate need of help. Thousands of people, including countless children and babies, have now been forced to spend nights sleeping in car parks, roads and fields. Police and road-blocks are also making it difficult for NGO volunteers to reach those in need with the necessary support. The island of Lesbos is in a state of emergency. This is a humanitarian crisis.

However, the fires in Moria were not unexpected – this fire has been raging since 2015. This is the result of the European and Greek migration policy of trapping thousands of people in obscenely overcrowded and inhumane conditions. The UK must also accept its responsibility in this catastrophe, as the fire in Moria has shone a blinding light on the deeply inadequate system of European solidarity. European states have rejected responsibility, blocked safe paths to asylum and orchestrated years of human suffering and violence. The ashes of Moria are a testament to the desperate need for systematic restructuring.

So far 10 European countries have stepped up to help the 400 unaccompanied children who have been made homeless by the devastating fire that gutted the Moria camp. Germany and France will welcome in 100 to 150 unaccompanied children. A total of nine EU states, including the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Portugal, have agreed to take in around 400 children from the camp. The UK is not one of them. The UK hosts 1% of the worlds refugee population, yet they would have us believe that this percentage was much higher.

Priti Patel, Home Secretary in the UK, was recently in the news for her plans to send navy warships to block and intercept the passage of refugees and asylum seekers from France to the UK making the passage “unviable”. This is not only extremely dangerous it is illegal. Human Rights Barrister Sangeetha Langar explained that “under refugee law, every person who enters a territory – which extends to 12 nautical miles from the coastline – is entitled to claim asylum. And on the other hand, under international maritime law, all captains of all vessels have a duty to help persons from vessels in distress”. These families have already taken a desperate and extremely dangerous trip across the Mediterranean, it shouldn’t be right that the only way a child can seek sanctuary in the UK is by taking another plight across the Channel.

The use of navy warships to intercept vulnerable people travelling by dingy or boats wildly over-capacity is extremely dangerous and inhumane. Priti Patel is acting in our name. She is advocating for the murder of people fleeing war and destruction, human beings fighting for their right to live in safety. They have a legal right to come to the UK and we have a legal duty to accept their arrival – but more than that, we have a moral responsibility to accept these people who have lost everything and finally grant them the freedom to build a new life.

On 18th August, the body of Abdulfatah Hamdallah was discovered on a beach at Sangatte, near Calais while trying to reach UK shores. How many more people need to suffer before something changes? Seeking Asylum is a human right.

What’s happening now:

  • A new ‘camp’ has been made on military ground, which was last week still a shooting range. The Greek government says they have 250 tents, 10 people per tent gives space for 2,500 people. There are 13,000 people here who need a place to sleep.

How you can help:

  • Donate to the @chooselove Moria Fire Emergency Response appeal here to help those on the frontline. Donations enable their grassroots partners to deliver sleeping bags, blankets, needed items for mothers and babies, medical care, PPE and shelter where possible.
  • It cannot be right that the only way a child can seek sanctuary in the UK is by taking the desperate and sometimes deadly decision to cross the Channel. Please write to your local MP demanding action now via this excellent page by @doctorswithoutborders:
  • Sign this petition calling for urgent evacuation from the Moria camp and radical change

Your support is making a difference:

  • @betterdaysngo helped to locate over 400 unaccompanied minors who have now been transferred to the mainland. 
  • @because_we_carry is supplying desperately needed sleeping bags, diapers and fruit to women and babies.
  • @movementonthegroundofficial is distributing blankets, PPE, water and snacks to people forced to sleep on the roadside. 
  • @healthbridgemedical is providing emergency healthcare to those with chronic illnesses as well as to those injured by the blaze. 
  • @attikahuma is ensuring more people have essentials like sleeping bags.
  • @refugee4refugees is stepping up to provide food

Educate yourself on the difference between these terms:

Asylum seeker – a person who has left their home country as a political refugee and is seeking asylum in another.

Refugee – a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

Migrant – a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.

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