A refugee cleans his tent in a makeshift camp on the Hungary-Serbia border, on the Serbian side of a transit zone set up by Hungarian authorities to filter refugees at Roszke, Hungary, September 2, 2016. Picture taken September 2, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LASZLO BALOGH)
On Tuesday night, 15 refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos were injured in fighting between groups of migrants in a crowded refugee camp. The clashes highlight the continuing crisis as activists call for better conditions and faster processing of refugees who want to move elsewhere in Europe.
At the same time, the EU’s most influential states, Germany and France, are pursuing different strategies to deal with refuge-seekers from Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
According to a local account posted on a Greek Facebook page devoted to “No borders,” more than 200 refugees arrived on the island on Tuesday night. “[A] fight started while waiting long time in line for toilets and shower.”
The post described Lesbos’s Moria camp as an EU-created “hell” and called on the EU to “wake up.”
Recent accounts on the island have described the camp as housing up to 7,500 refugees and migrants “in a small space without enough toilets, showers and rubbish bins.”
According to Kathryn Doyle of the Jesuit Refugee Service, “despite commitments to move 5,000 people off the islands by the end of this week, there is still a long way to go to reach the target.” People continue to arrive by boat from Turkey “to the hell that is Moria camp,” she wrote on Twitter.
Medicines Sans Frontieres says there are more than 500 people waiting on Lesbos for access to mental health treatment, and that they are “trapped” on the island.
Differing accounts of the recent clash described it as between Afghans and Arabs. Police and fire services were called, including three ambulances and members of local NGOs such as the Boat Refugee Foundation. The injured included an elderly Iraqi man and two pregnant women.
The crisis on Lesbos is part of a larger refugee and migration crisis that has been disturbing Europe and its politics for more than two years.
Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose Austrian People’s Party is now partnered with the far-right Freedom Party, called in an op-ed in Time magazine on Monday for a “robust control of the European Union’s external borders.” This is a prerequisite “if we want to find sustainable solutions for the migration crisis,” he said.
Kurz wrote that migratory pressures will continue from Africa, and that Europe needs pro-active “resettlement programs” that would allow needy people to find protection in the EU. He praised a new NGO “code of conduct” regulation in the Mediterranean that calls on the NGOs to stop going into Libyan territorial waters to pick up refugees, encouraging them to work with local authorities.
After CNN reported earlier this year that Africans stuck in Libya were being sold into slavery, France and other countries were moved to try to help. France has said it will take in 10,000 refugees from Libya by 2019, in a new program that flies them in directly from North Africa.
Germany is commemorating the first anniversary of a terrorist attack that killed 12 in a Christmas market in Berlin. Markus Ulbig, a member of the Christian Democratic Union, suggested last month deporting Syrian refugees who commit crimes. A local party spokesman suggested that some return to their homeland, according to a report by Reuters. In addition, the Alternative for Germany party, like other right-wing parties in Europe, has been gaining support by criticizing immigration policies that have brought a million newcomers to the Federal Republic.
The riots on Lesbos illustrate that the problems of 2015 have not been solved. Videos from the island and other places in Greece show the filthy and cramped conditions. As winter approaches there are calls to improve the situation. But the EU has still not created a robust policy that addresses and manages the refugees and migrants at the point they arrive.
Instead, NGOs and local activists point to continuing chaos that overwhelm the capabilities of local authorities. “Hot spots like Moria are failed attempts to control migration. It’s been more than a year of the same story and Fortress Europe has yet to realize the crime it’s committing,” local journalist Marianna Karakoulaki wrote on Twitter in response to the riots at Moria.