When Europe began to back out of its open-door policy in 2015, the world was forced to watch the refugee crisis develop into the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of the 21stcentury. On the 18thof March 2016, the apparent solution to this was the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, so as to redirect the influx of migrants into Turkey. This 6 billion-euro deal designed to fund the needs of refugees is currently celebrating the fact that the numbers reaching the shores of Greece have lowered between 2015 and 2017 from 856,723 to 29,718. However, this ‘containment’ policy means that those who do reach the Greek islands are forced to stay there rather than being transported to the mainland, leading to a harmful and unhygienic level of overcrowding.
Moria, on the island of Lesbos, is one of the most notoriously deprived refugee camps. Following the attempted suicide of a child as young as the age of 10, the media shone a lighton the appalling living conditions that the people there are subjected to. In this camp that crams in 8000 people in a space that is only built for 2000, there can be up to 100 people sharing just one toilet. The violence and fights between various groups such as the Arabs and the Kurdish, or the Sunni’s and the Shia’s, means that the residents live in a state of constant fear. January 2017 showed how lethal even the weather can be if you are provided with so fewbasic materials. Threepeople died in the space of a week. A video surfaced that winter showing refugees surviving in tents in a landscape covered in snow. The temperature dropped as low as -5 degrees.
This video was a desperate attempt to disprove the claim of the Greek Migration Minister, Yiannis Mouzalas, who maintained that they had successfully provided shelter for almost all the migrants. The person filmingsays ‘Look – look for yourself […] Is it possible to live in these conditions?’ ‘They are in the ice, lying like corpses – is that normal? Is that logical I ask you?’ According to the Guardian, the mayor of Lesbos himself, Spyros Galinos, described the place looking increasingly like ‘a concentration camp.’
Calais and France’s poor handling of its incoming refugees shows that the situation is repeated across Europe. Following the French government’s clearing of the camp known as the ‘Jungle’ back in October 2016, many refugees have found no choice but to return to Calais in hope of getting into Britain after France rejected 73% of the 100,412 asylum applications made in 2017. According to the UK-based NGO HelpRefugees, the number of refugees currently in Calais is close to10,000, of which approximatively 1,000 are unaccompanied minors.
France appears to be making it incredibly difficult for those living there to retain their basic dignities and human rights. Many migrants find themselves hungry, sleeping rough and even washing in polluted rivers – rightly described as ‘inhumane’ by the UN. Even more appallingly, French authorities appear to be going out of their way to make life harder for these people, resorting to violence in order to stop a camp from reforming. According to a volunteer’s reports of his personal experience in the port city, police brutality includes beatings, slashing tents, poisoning drinking water with chemicals, stealing shoes and using tear gas in what they describe to be ‘clearances’.
The volunteer goes on to explain how badly the situation is being overlooked: skin conditions such as scabies are settling in, a highly infectious parasite that relies on dirt to spread, laying eggs under the skin and causing an overpowering itch. Accompanied by sleep deprivation, diarrhoea and diseases such as hypothermia, refugees find themselves not only physically at risk, but also mentally.
The stabbings, the beatings and the constant violence that surrounds them has created an unthinkably vicious and unhealthy environment for people who have often already survived trauma when fleeing from their own warring countries. It is unforgivable that they are met with such degradation and humiliation, many having risked their lives just to reach what they thought would be safety. Europe’s shameful handling of this situation is only made up for by the individuals, the volunteers who go offer assistance in places where their hard work gets torn down by higher authorities. If countries such as Britain enact plans such as the Dubs agreement, an unfulfilled promised to take in 3000 unaccompanied children, the situation can be dramatically improved. Europe can and must provide secure spaces. It has a moral obligation to revise its policies.