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Moria refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece destroyed by fire

PC(USA) partners are calling on European governments for humanitarian aid

by Burkhard Paetzold, Presbyterian World Mission | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Just off the coast of Turkey, the Moria Refugee Camp on the Greek island of Lesvos has become an important stop for migrants fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan and other places. Sadly, it burned this week. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

BERLIN, Germany — Late Tuesday night, the refugee camp Moria, on the Island of Lesvos, Greece, experienced a nightmare.

“#MoriaCamp has burnt down. #Lesvos is in a state of emergency. It was only a matter of time for the cruel policies of #Greece and #EU to lead to this. 13,000 ppl in lockdown for 6 months without any basic protection. Then #COVID19 starts to spread. We can only imagine the despair, wrote Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner Lesvos Solidarity from the Greek island on Twitter. Pictures show large fires and refugees camping out on the streets of Lesvos Island.

This happened only two days after civil rights initiatives had protested by setting 13,000 chairs on the meadow in front of the German parliament in order to make politicians aware of “finally ending the humanitarian catastrophe at the European external borders and to evacuate the camp, organizers told the German media.

Among the protesters, Hans Thomä, former migration officer for the PC(USA) global partner Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, who has been quoted as saying, Europe will lose its soul if the thousands of refugees on the Greek islands are not helped soon.

Each day, up to 3,000 people inside the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece, must wait in line for food. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

Together with civil society actors all over Europe, mayors and city councils, many churches have been expressing over and over again their willingness to welcome and shelter refugees from Moria. European governments were clearly unable or unwilling to agree on a common policy to channel and support these welcome initiatives and to organize a strong and humanitarian response.

The chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, has expressed his dismay at the situation in the Moria refugee camp. “It was with sadness and horror that I saw the pictures of the burning Moria camp this morning,” said Bedford-Strohm on Wednesday. The extent of the fire gives cause for fear. It is still unclear whether people have died. My fears are great. And my prayers intense.”

“The suffering that thousands of people have endured there for months can hardly be put into words, added Bedford-Strohm, who is also the Bavarian regional bishop. The dire conditions in the camp had been pointed out for a long time and remedial measures had been requested. “Even so, only a few people were allowed to leave the camp. The total overcrowding remained,” said the EKD council chairman. Now people must be helped immediately and permanently.

PC(USA) World Mission Middle East and Europe staff has visited Lesvos Island for their area gathering in October 2019, met with Lesvos Solidarity and others and saw the terrible conditions in the Moria camp.

“For all who have seen it this was almost predictable. Will this be the horrible wake up call for a failed European refugee policy to turn? Europe needs a strong humanitarian response to migration. Strong countries like Germany cannot hide and put the burden on the Mediterranean countries,” says Burkhard Paetzold, Regional Liaison of Central and western Europe.

Previous Presbyterian News Service stories on Lesvos are here and here.

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