By William J. Furney
Around 13,000 people from impoverished and warring parts of the world ended up on the tiny Greek island of Lesbos only for their expansive migrant camp to burn to the ground, leaving them with little other than the ragged clothes on their backs and nowhere to call home.
Europe does not want to know, and the island’s almost 56,500 population wants them out.
Meanwhile, the migrants — many of them unaccompanied children — are sleeping on the streets, with no sanitation or any other conveniences necessary to sustain human health.
It is an ongoing human tragedy in a Europe that’s a magnet for economic migrants from such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and countries in northern Africa, and few want to know about the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.
The migrants almost certainly crossed into Europe from Turkey, given that the Mytilini Strait that separates Greek’s third-largest of its 6,000 islands from the Turkish coast is just 5.5 kilometres at its narrowest point. Angela Merkel’s cash-infused talks and deals with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was supposed to put an end to the influx across the uncontrolled EU border between Turkey and Lesbos but clearly it’s not working.
The newcomers, many of them hoping to make it to such apparently desirable places as Britain, were being housed in the ramshackle — and ballooning — Moria migrant camp until it was razed to the ground this week. The Greek government believes the migrants set the blaze on Wednesday after dozens of them reportedly tested positive for novel coronavirus, but the authorities didn’t provide details. The fire “began with the asylum-seekers”, said Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi.
Such is the desperation to get into Europe and start a new and hopefully better life and one that’s free from the ravages of war that many parents hand their children over to big-fee people-smugglers and leave them to make the often treacherous journeys across land and sea with other migrants and refugees. There were hundreds of unaccompanied minors at the Moria camp, and like their fellow migrants after the fire, they were sleeping rough on roads and in fields, with no sanitation and hardly anything to eat or drink, until many of the youngsters were flown to the Greek mainland.
Germany and France have offered to take around 400 of these terrified children who surely have no idea what’s happening to them and are likely traumatised at being separated from their families, according to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. Meanwhile, the Greek military has been racing to build replacement housing while the EU has announced that the Moria camp will be rebuilt.
But the fed-up migrants don’t want another camp to spring from the ashes of where some had been living for up to five years — they want off the island and to start new lives and have been staging protests calling for their freedom.
— Bethany Bell (@BethanyBellBB) September 11, 2020
The trouble is, there’s nowhere to go.
Hope may come at the end of September, when the EU is due to publish proposals for what it hopes will be an end to the immigration crisis that has rocked the continent for years. But with countries like Britain now out of the EU immigration quota game, because it’s out of the EU, there’s further pressure on the prosperous bloc’s members to take more asylum-seekers in.
Greece and neighbouring Italy are equally aggrieved that they’ve been left to deal with the immigration inundation while wealthier countries in northern Europe are offering little assistance or opening their doors.
Amnesty International, along with other NGOs, published an open letter this week saying what happened at the Moria camp was because of Europe’s abject failure to tackle the problem of refugees and migrants arriving on the continent’s shores.
“The shameful situation in the camp and the fire disaster are the direct result of a failed European refugee policy — now the EU must finally help the people affected,” the letter says.
Tensions are reaching critical levels on Lesbos this weekend, with police firing tear gas at the migrants over their ongoing protests over wanting to be housed anywhere but Lesbos, and probably anywhere in Greece or probably neighbouring nations either. But when you’re an unwanted guest in a foreign land, you’re not in a position to make demands.
Some elements of the left-wing media want Europe to welcome everyone without a passport and allegedly fleeing persecution in their homeland with open arms, but they’re deluded, because most are clearly migrants of the economic variety, hoping to cash in on liberal nations’ generous refugee policies.
As for the waves that keep on coming, many tragically perishing along the way, they may find out that the streets of Europe are not paved with gold, but with people from similarly far-flung lands hoping to cash in but lucking out.
- Title image shows migrants on a road on the Greek island of Lesbos following a fire on Wednesday that destroyed a camp they were being housed at. (Credit: Reuters)