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


‘A yard turned to a hotspot’

In September 2019 numerous websites announced that  ‘the Thessaloniki Railway Station train yard has turned into a hotspot. The place was full of garbage and the hygiene is terrible’. The fact is that refugees and migrants had found shelter by occupying the abandoned trains –many of them were sleeping cars- that had been parked in the yard more than ten years ago and hadn’t moved ever since. A second fact is that indeed many plastic items such as bottles and food packages had been covering the stones between the wagons and the train tracks. Nevertheless beside those facts underlays another one. It is the informal admittance from the Press that the hot spots are really inhuman places where fundamental rights and any quality of life are absent, neglected dirty places that lack any infrastructure, safety and hygiene. So, this is the norm and again, this is regarded like a fact and like there is nothing we can do to turn them to better places. Paradoxically enough, they also demand the hot spots’ evictions as for example locals ask for Moria. However they ask so primarily not for the actual sensible reasons of the inhuman living conditions but for the locals’ own advantages. Accordingly, the abandoned train inhabitants -suchlike the hot spot inhabitants- are often presented as dangerous and threatening.  

Graffiti artists who were frequently visiting the same place in order to paint those and other trains testified diverse narrations. They became friends with the migrants and exchanged stories from their personal lives. They state that the squatters were not at all harmful to them. Pictures from their encounters show that their look was definitely well cared and clean. According to the artists, the inhabitants had even organised a barber shop in one of the trains’ coupes. 

Finally the train squatters were evicted and the wagons were moved seventy kilometers away after their long stay in the main station train yard.  Now new improved fences are replacing the older ones around the yard to prevent both migrants and graffiti artists to access any other parked trains.

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019