Moria = Murder

Conditions in the detention centre in Moria outside Mytilene, dubbed the “Guantánamo Bay of Europe” and “the worst refugee camp on earth”; an illegal de facto regime of indefinite, arbitrary incarceration of people in Moria or on the island.

The characterization “Guantánamo Bay of Europe” draws a parallel to the notorious offshore US military prison in the Naval Base in Guantánamo, Cuba (captured during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and “leased” to the US in 1903 with no expiration date, an “agreement” that Cubans regard as an instance of US imperialism). It is based on a statement made by Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Migration Commissioner, reacting to the proposal of European Council President Donald Tusk, inspired by an earlier suggestion by Hungarian President Viktor Orbán, that the EU create “regional disembarkation platforms” outside the EU, where agencies collaborating with UNHCR and IOM would sort so-called legitimate asylum seekers from economic migrants, before they reach EU borders. Avramopoulos’ protestations that such a proposal goes against “European values”. In fact, evincing the tendentiousness of the offshore/onshore distinction, here, a number of journalistic articles have, before and since Avramopoulos’ declarations, referred to Lesvos/Moria as the “Guantánamo Bay of Europe,” quoting conservative Lesvos Mayor Spyros Gallinos, and indicating the scenario officials variously propose or reject is already a reality under the current European Agenda on Migration. 

A reference to Moria as the worst refugee camp on earth is the title of a documentary aired on BBC produced by reporter Catrin Nye, who “went inside” Moria during a media blackout enforced by the Greek military, who have authority over the prison camp. The characterisation is based on a statement by Luca Fontana, Médicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) Coordinator in Lesvos, who says “Lesvos is the worst place I’ve been, in my whole life, and in my whole MSF experience; and I’ve been working in several countries, war zones; I’ve been working in refugee camps in Central African Republic, in Congo; in the biggest Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2014-15. But I’ve never seen—ever—the level of suffering we are witnessing here, everyday.”  MSF operates a clinic just outside the camp since 2016, when along with most INGOs and UNHCR withdrew from Moria and the other hotspot camps in protest, as they were turned into detention centres after the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. “We took the extremely difficult decision to end our activities in Moria because continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane … We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants,” said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF Head of Mission in Greece, cited in The Press Project, “UNHCR and NGO’s withdraw from Greek islands, tension is rising in Idomeni.” 

Moria refugee camp was originally intended to hold 3,000 people and in 2019 it has grown to become a shanty town of 19,000, from which according to journalist Harriet Grant 40% of whom are under 18. Around 13,000 of those are living in a filthy unofficial camp of tarpaulin tents and makeshift huts made of pallets, in an olive grove surrounding the main site. There is no electricity, not enough water and rivers of mud and rubbish run through the tents. To incarcerate someone in Moria in these conditions equals murder.

Myrto Tsilimpounidi
December 2019


‘Moria = murder’ wall writing in Mytilene, December 2019
Photo by Anna Carastathis