Moria migrant camp

 

Sir, – “Welcome to prison.”

These words, scrawled across a concrete wall at the entrance to the Moria refugee camp in Greece, greet everyone who enters.

On a cold February day in 2018, my colleague and I passed these words as we wandered down the muddy centre of Moria. The camp was densely overcrowded, with more than 11,000 people crammed into a space that was only ever meant to accommodate 3,000. We weaved in between makeshift tents cobbled together with tarp and duct tape; covered in the mud that plagued the camp in winter. Little faces poked out from the open flaps of these tents to wave at us as we walked by.

Aptly called “the pen” this is where unaccompanied minors – children who arrive in Europe without family – are held. Inside this “pen” within a “prison”, there were children everywhere.

I left Moria two years ago, heartbroken and terrified. Scared for the young children trapped in unsafe, unhealthy, and unfit conditions without their family or someone to care for them.

Moria was a prison and on Wednesday that prison burnt to the ground.

The camp was holding 13,000 people, 634 of which were unaccompanied children. The competing tragedies of the spreading virus, fire, and additional displacement are just the newest heartbreaks in the lives of the people living in Moria. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the overcrowded conditions on this island were inhumane, unhygienic and unsafe.

The fire on Wednesday was a fully preventable tragedy and is the consequence of years of a misguided response from the EU and its member states to the arrival of people fleeing conflict and persecution.

In March, Ireland joined a coalition of the willing of EU member states who signed up to take a portion of the 1,600 unaccompanied minor children being held on the Greek Islands as a whole.

This welcome initiative further illustrates Ireland’s long history as an island of refuge for the most vulnerable and in need of shelter.

In the wake of this tragedy, we need to urgently relocate the unaccompanied minors that we committed to take and bring them safely to Ireland.

Unaccompanied minors who have fled twice, once from persecution and violence in their home countries and now from the burning prison of Moria camp. These children, alone in the world, are in need of a safe place now more than ever. – Yours, etc,

ERIN McKAY,

Oxfam Ireland,

Portview House,

Thorncastle Street,

Ringsend,

Dublin 4.