Fires that devastated Europe's largest refugee camp Moria once again put a spotlight on the EU's treatment of asylum-seekers. EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson told DW about her plans to improve solidarity among EU states.
Critics say the infamous Moria refugee camp in Greece is the European Union’s greatest shame.
Overcrowding and squalid living conditions have turned Moria into a ticking time bomb — under the EU's watch. Now fires have destroyed most of the camp, and left thousands of people without shelter.
DW spoke about the EU’s next steps with Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, who oversees migration.
DW: Conditions at the Moria camp on Lesbos were deplorable and had been for years. Why has Europe tolerated that situation there for so long?
Johansson: We can't tolerate that. When I took office in the last days of last year, we started with this, and we have been able to take out more than half of the migrants in these overcrowded camps. So in Moria, for example, half a year ago, there were 25,000 migrants. Now there are 12,000. There are still too many and still unacceptable living conditions. But I'm really happy that we already managed to get out so many people and also, especially, the most vulnerable ones. But of course, this is not a sustainable solution for migration in Europe.
DW: So progress has been made. But now that the Moria camp has burned down, some unaccompanied children, teenagers have been moved to the Greek mainland, but authorities are only now beginning to think about what to do with the other 12,000 who are now dispossessed. People had warned that this camp might burn down. Why does it take a disaster to get things moving?
Johansson: No, it didn't take a disaster to get things moving. We started already. This is important to stress. But now, as you've already shown here, we have a lot of people in a very difficult situation and now we need acute shelter and support for these people. The European Commission will pay for ferries that will arrive today that some people can live on. We are also sending a lot of equipment that will also arrive there. But in my view, this is not a sustainable solution. I think the people need to be evacuated from the island.
DW: Some EU countries have taken in virtually no asylum-seekers, whereas others, like Germany and Sweden, have taken in large numbers. Countries like Greece, Italy and Spain have been left to deal with the situation largely by themselves. Why has the EU failed to agree on at least a common humanitarian approach to migration?
Johansson: I can't answer why, but I can say that this is my overall task to present in a few weeks a new pact on migration and asylum. I spent a lot of time negotiating and talking with member states and parliament and other stakeholders.
I do think that we can present a holistic proposal that can get acceptance from all member states. Because it's really necessary both for the solidarity between member states that we have a solid solidarity mechanism, but also for the solidarity with these individuals that are now living on the streets. Of course, that is not sustainable. We can't accept that.
DW: How is the new pact you're developing going to help the people who are on Lesbos right now?
Johansson: The acute situation we have to handle right now, but that's why we are active together with the Greek authorities, together with member states. I'm very happy that we have many member states also stepping up, saying they are ready to help. And the Commission, of course, is ready to help Greece, as we have done for many years.
But I'm also responsible for setting up a new legislative proposal so that we will have a better system of more solidarity, more resilience and a better share of responsibility when it comes to migration in the European Union. And I'm going to do that.
First published: September 11, 2020
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