Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Whither/Wither Europe

"There was no electricity in the container last night. It was like a fridge."
"I want to go to Athens. If you don't want me, I want to go to another country."
"Why am I here [in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos]?"
Jahangir Baroch, Pakistani refugee

"Even if you are healthy, in Moria you'll get a problem."
"That's not a place to put people in. The police cannot control the camp."
Amir Ali, 27, Afghan migrant

"You're thinking about the future."
"Yes [I have hope]. Tomorrow is another day, yes?"
Isaac Hielo, 29, Eritrean refugee
Asylum seekers gather around the only wifi-hotspot inside Moria camp. With just emergency cases allowed to travel to Greece's mainland, where conditions are generally better, many have to wait for more than 12 months until their claims are processed. [Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera]
Asylum seekers gather around the only wifi-hotspot inside Moria camp. With just emergency cases allowed to travel to Greece's mainland, where conditions are generally better, many have to wait for more than 12 months until their claims are processed. Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

The Moria refugee camp is meant to house refugees that Greece has no intention of absorbing. Most of those making their way to Greece, in any event, likely plan to forge on elsewhere in Europe. The vital thing for them was to gain a foothold. Some of the refugees have lived in the camp for up to two years since the deal the European Union struck with Turkey slowed down passage across the Aegean Sea for asylum seekers.

Wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan convinced many people to leave and seek opportunities elsewhere. Thousands of people remain stranded on Lesbos. They have the option of returning back to the countries they left, but few choose that path. They want a new, fresh start in life. Opportunities that cannot be met in the countries they've left. Muslim countries mired in tribal and sectarian violence, where peoples' needs are ignored because of corrupt politicians.

Some among them strike it lucky when their applications for asylum are accepted and they're permitted to go on to the Greek mainland. The greater number by far whose applications are rejected are then sent back to Turkey as agreed in that deal that Turkey bargained for to give its citizens greater visa-free access to the EU, and eventual acceptance into EU membership, though that hope is fading fast given Recep Tayyip Erdogan's viral rants.

Piles of discarded life vests are scattered around the camp, testament to the desperate voyage the migrants were willing to undergo to reach their eventual, hoped-for final destination. The Moria camp was designed to accommodate about 2,500 people but it currently holds 5,500. There is no comfort, with rain soaking tents, a lack of electricity and hot water to shower. The food is bad but even so there is rarely enough.
An improvised shelter can be seen inside and outside Moria camp. Often just provided with summer tents, people try to make those fit for winter and the harsh weather conditions. [Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera]
An improvised shelter can be seen inside and outside Moria camp. Often just provided with summer tents, people try to make those fit for winter and the harsh weather conditions. Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Accidents occur resulting from men chopping up wood and lighting fires in their tents in an effort to keep warm. Last year three people were killed by one of those accidents. Ali Zaid, 23, left Iraq fleeing the Islamic State and has been living in a makeshift camp on the fringes of Moria located in an olive grove. "Very cold, very cold, very cold", he said of the outdoor shower, a hose in the open despite the cold of an Aegean winter.

"Every day I'm here", trying to smuggle himself off the island in trucks loaded for Athens, said 20-year-old Algerian Anas. "Sometimes I try, sometimes not. It's hard to leave", he said. For women it's worse, much worse. When a 30-year-old woman from Afghanistan lost her way in the dark one night she was raped. The police, when she reported the crime, sent her back to Moria. "I wanted to kill myself", she said.

Muslim countries fester in dysfunction, violence, fear and conflict, spewing out their citizens in hopes of finding a better life for themselves. In the process, Europe feels helpless in the throes of a crisis of humanitarian proportions, guilty if they refuse to accept this tide of human cast-offs looking for a future and for freedoms not found in their native countries, and helpless to defend themselves, their heritage, culture, values from the influx of strangers from strange lands whose religion, culture and values are gradually stifling their own.

These are people for whom the alternative of returning back home is no option whatever. However miserable are the conditions they find in refugee camps in Europe, the misery they live through in their countries of birth are more soul-destroying, with no hope for the future, while Europe, though balking at accepting them, still offers them the hope for a better future. The cost, in the final analysis, will be Europe's identity.

At night, there are many open fires inside the camp. The wood comes from the forest and olive grove surrounding the area, which leads to tensions with the local farmers. [Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera]
At night, there are many open fires inside the camp. The wood comes from the forest and olive grove surrounding the area, which leads to tensions with the local farmers. Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

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