Paul Workman: The shame of Lesbos

Paul Workman: The shame of Lesbos
LONDON, U.K. -- Five men have been arrested for setting fire to a refugee camp so wretched they chose to destroy the place rather than stay there another day.

What is their crime?

Moria Camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was filthy, desperately overcrowded and dangerousa stain on Europes reputation. And now it is gone forever.

For all the short-term suffering the fire caused, few people are sorry.

Thirteen thousand migrants were crammed into a space that was meant to hold 3,000imprisoned there, barred from travelling until their asylum claims had been settled. Stranded, and often for a very long time.

The volcano erupted.

Self-immolation is probably not the right description, but neither is arson. This was an uprising, long in the making. A prison riot by people who had never been convicted of anything.

Greeces civil protection minister offered some rare honesty about the abysmal conditions in Moriaand Europes moral failure.

It was a camp of shame, he admitted. Now it belongs to history. It will be cleared up and replaced by olive groves.

What an intriguing thought. To see olive trees rising out of the ashes of such a notorious human holding pen.

The idea back in 2016 was to relocate thousands of migrants throughout Europe and generously share the burden. It was a disaster.

Moria Camp grew and festered, and many believe that was the intention, to make conditions there so miserable, migrants would stop coming. Engineered deterrance, unspoken of course.

If that was the case, it obviously didnt work because the flimsy, crowded boats kept coming until Lesbos was overwhelmed. And Europe let it happen.

In the wake of the fire, a new temporary camp has been set up and the migrants are being encouraged to move in, but there is resistance.

Its a terrifying prospect, one aid worker told me.

Theres a lot of fear about going into the camps and not being let out of there.

The Greek civil protection minister has made a bold prediction that seems overly optimistic given the fraught history of Camp Moria.

They will all leave, he declared, and the island of Lesbos will be empty of migrants by next Easter.

If they can do that now, why couldnt they have done it before?

This could be, and should be a watershed moment, said the aid worker I spoke to. Since when does a disastrous fire become a watershed?

Germany has offered to take in 1,500 people from the camp, more or less standing alone, as it has before. Austrias right-wing prime minister is having none of it.

A week after the fire, almost all of the 13,000 migrants are still living on the rough roadsides and fields of Lesbos, filled with suspicion, and fearing there is a new Moria, a new prison in their future.
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