Tension mounts in Lesbos as asylum seekers decry inhumane treatment

On Monday, July 10, a protest got out of hand in the Moria Camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos and, soon, some of the tents were ablaze. Photo: United Rescue Aid.
On Monday, July 10, a protest got out of hand in the Moria Camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos and, soon, some of the tents were ablaze. Photo: United Rescue Aid.


Asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos are trapped in limbo—confined to filthy, dangerous and overcrowded camps, they must wait months for their asylum claims to be processed. The stakes are high—if their claims are rejected, they face deportation to Turkey. Last Monday, people living in Moria Camp began protesting inhumane treatment and poor conditions. The tension and stress boiled over and, soon, someone had set some of the tents ablaze.

Close to 4,000 people are trapped in the migrant reception centre in Moria. Some have been waiting for months while Greek authorities consider their asylum claims. The overcrowded camp isn’t far from Mytilène Port where many people-- mostly from Africa and the Middle East-- arrive in boats from Turkey. NGOs have frequently complained about the terrible conditions in the camp, which amount to a health and safety risk for its residents. Aid workers recount raw sewage running into tents, contaminated water, snake invasions and high fire risks.

This winter, we spoke to numerous Observers who described the dangerously cold temperatures that descended on Moria (-14C), freezing the many camp residents who were living in summer tents.

On the afternoon of Monday, July 10, a group of camp residents began protesting the inhumane treatment of a failed asylum seeker. Soon, a small group of frustrated and angry men clashed with police and, soon after, one of the tents was ablaze. This is the third time since September 2016 that a deliberate fire has swept the camp.

United Rescue Aid, which provides services in the camp, posted on its Facebook page that the offices of several different NGOs had been burned down. Greek news agency ANA reported that two large tents and two prefabricated units had been destroyed by the flames.

The fire in Moria is now under control. Former BRF-isobox, Eurorelief, European Lawyers and Shade Shelter were burned....

Publié par United Rescue Aid sur lundi 10 juillet 2017

"The offices of humanitarian organisations were ransacked”

Our Observer, Ted (not his real name)-- an activist who fled his native Congo-Brazzaville because he opposed the government-- arrived in the camp in Moria in early December. He sent the France 24 Observers team several videos of the fire that raged through the camp on Monday.

On Monday, a man learned that his claim for asylum in Greece had been rejected for the second time. The police immediately handcuffed him and brought him to prison, which is the first step before he is deported back to Turkey. The scene was absolutely shocking. We are asylum seekers, not criminals!

Several men in the camp began to protest his deportation and the situation quickly spun out of control. Men started throwing rocks at the police, who then let off tear gas. Some of the rioting men ransacked the offices of humanitarian organisations and set fire to some of the camp’s infrastructure.

The situation didn’t calm down until the leaders of the different communities in the camp came to an agreement with the police. The asylum seeker who was originally going to be taken to prison was allowed to stay. People here are demanding better housing conditions and faster and more lenient consideration of their asylum claims. We definitely don’t want to be deported to Turkey.

Video sent by our Observer.

In a post on Facebook, United Rescue Aid described the same sequence of events, except they specified that the failed asylum seeker who was meant to be deported was originally from Haiti. On Tuesday, the aid group posted a video of the man in question, who explained that he had been allowed to stay in the camp after the protest movement. He didn’t specify how long he had been allowed to stay.

The fire earlier today broke out after confrontation with police - the confrontation began when this young man, Johanah from Haiti, was incarcerated after his appeal for asylum rejection was issued. Johanah's appeal was rejected only two days after being submitted, then the police handcuffed him and took him to jail. The refugee community, emotionally eroded, pushed to the point of desperation, and tired of the living situation and the deportations, confronted the police who took Johanah. He was subsequently released and we were able to speak to him, yet 7 Nepalese and 4 Egyptians are still in jail. #Moriafire #moria #stopdeportations #unitesrescueaid #unitedwestand #iamhuman

Publié par United Rescue Aid sur lundi 10 juillet 2017

Since March 20, 2016, an agreement between the European Union and Turkey has allowed Greece to deport migrants back to Turkey.

However, the deportation process has met with substantial criticism. In a statement published last May, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) accused Greece of endangering people in need of protection by illegally deporting Turkish asylum seekers back to Turkey-- including a journalist who was arrested by Turkish authorities immediately after his return.

Delays in processing asylum claims has transformed the Greek islands from places of transit to places of detention, where people waiting for their claims to be processed can remain trapped for up to a year.