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The EU failed displaced people at Moria camp

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert
September 11, 2020

Survivors of the fire at the Moria camp for displaced people are living on the streets of the Greek island of Lesbos. The European Union has plenty of platitudes to offer, but not much else, DW's Bernd Riegert writes.

Escape from Moria
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/P. Giannakouris

The European Union's political response to the fire that destroyed the Moria camp for displaced people on the Greek island Lesbos makes one seethe.  

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, European Way of Life Commissioner, Margaritis Schinas, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and others have babbled profusely about the need to find EU solutions to asylum issues. Yet they know full well that such solutions have proven unreachable over the past five years, and they're unlikely to be reached quickly now.  

Bernd Riegert
DW's Bernd Riegert

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel meekly stated that the European Union at present simply has no common asylum policy. In other words, we can't do anything — quite the opposite of Merkel's famous "we can do it" quote from the 2015 refugee crisis.  

It is no longer about an imaginary EU solidarity. It is about more than 12,000 displaced people who have been displaced from a camp for displaced people and now need urgent help. As far as we know, three days after the fire burned down the camp, these people have nothing — no water, no food, no shelter. And that's not even mentioning protection from the coronavirus. It is a scandal.  

Read more: Moria refugee camp tragedy becomes political controversy in Germany

A predictable result  

Greek authorities are either turning a blind eye or are unable to provide relief. And the rest of Europe?  

Just a few days after a terrible explosion totally destroyed Beirut's harbor, German technical relief teams and French military ships carrying aid material arrived. Where are they now? Is it not possible to organize help for a Greek island? Especially in the wake of a catastrophe that had been long predicted? For years, humanitarian groups had warned of the risks of chronic overcrowding and poor organization.  

The only answer Schinas could come up with was that a new tent camp must be built "as quickly as possible." Are you kidding me? Do we have to wait for people to die of dehydration?  

German Development Minister Gerd Müller said thousands of people could be evacuated within three days. He says that technically, this is no problem; there is simply a lack of political will. It's so simple and so enraging, one could just scream. 0

The German government has offered to take in 150 children, as has France. Eight other countries also want to take in another 100 kids in total. 

Given the misery on Lesbos, this is pitiful. It's great for the lucky 400, but it's a sign of failure for the EU. And it's a sign of failure for the German government in particular because at least ten major cities in Germany have voluntarily declared their immediate readiness to take in victims of the Moria catastrophe.  

Read more: German state offers to take in 1,000 refugees from Greece

Goal of deterrence?  

The only possible conclusion one can draw from European Union's inaction is that these images of suffering, of desperation and of collapse are desired. They're supposed to act as a deterrence. This is pure cynicism that no longer has anything to do with the European values so often invoked. In summer 2018, an EU summit officially approved deterrence as a tool of migration policy. We are seeing this policy's practical application today.  

The leader of the opposition in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel, of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, has fully disqualified herself on the topic. She argued that Germany should not take in any Moria victims because the potential arsonist could be among them.  

The heartless Weidel should know that the fire department will first put out a fire and save lives — even in cases of arson. It is only after that police start looking for possible perpetrators. This would be the order of action if Weidel's house were to catch fire. It should not be any different for Moria.  

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union