The outskirts of the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Credit: Cathsign (CC BY-SA 4.0).
A cardinal said yesterdat that Europe should be “ashamed” after fire devastated the continent’s largest refugee camp, leaving 13,000 people without shelter.
In a 9 September interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), lamented the destruction of the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
He said: “I think it’s a shame for Europe because it’s not only the camp Moria that’s on fire, but it’s the identity of Europe which is on fire. People came to Europe for help in their distress and we left them on a small Greek island. Many words, but no deeds. Europe should be ashamed because this is the result of the despair in the heart of people.”
Fire broke out at the camp, which was built to house 3,000 people, on the evening of 8 September. The blaze spread quickly due to high winds and by the following morning, most of the camp was a smoking ruin.
Hollerich recalled a visit he made to the camp in May 2019, with the papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.
“We could speak with people. We felt this deep, deep despair in the heart of the people. Darkness has come into the heart of this people. And I think the fire is a consequence of this attitude. But that attitude is due to our inaction,” he said.
The cause of the fire is currently unclear. Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said that the blaze “began with the asylum seekers” after quarantine was imposed following an outbreak of COVID-19. But he did not say that the fires were the result of arson.
The camp was opened in 2015 when hundreds of thousands of people arrived in Greece from Turkey, which is separated from Lesbos by a narrow strait. The camp’s population rose to more than 20,000 after European Union countries took measures to stop the influx of refugees.
Hollerich urged the EU to draw up a new common policy on migrants, noting that Germany, which began a six-month presidency of the Council of the EU in July, had begun work on it.
“We need it because people get caught in their distress and in their despair and we cannot claim the Christian roots of Europe if we let people down in their despair,” he said.
The archbishop of Luxembourg noted that Italy had received many residents of the Moria camp, thanks to a humanitarian corridor established with the help of the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio.
Pope Francis inaugurated the humanitarian corridor in April 2016 when he returned to Italy from Lesbos with 12 Syrian refugees.
Hollerich said: “If Italy can accept so many people, why can’t the rich countries of Europe not do more for helping the refugees? So it’s a call to the northern countries, to the rich countries, to accept more refugees.”
He added that, despite a drop in income due to the coronavirus crisis, churches in Europe also needed to do more to assist migrants.
In a statement Sept. 9, the Community of Sant’Egidio urged EU nations to take in refugees who had lost everything in the fire at the Moria camp.
“These are asylum seekers who have been living for months, some for years, in extremely precarious conditions, after having made long and very risky trips to escape from wars or unsustainable situations, mostly coming from Afghanistan,” the community, which welcomed more refugees from Lesbos in July, said.
“Europe, if it still lives up to its tradition of civilization and humanity, must take responsibility for it with an act of collective responsibility.”