Two cardinals and an archbishop have said that “Europe should be ashamed” after a devastating fire in a Greek island migrant camp.

– Cardinal Hollerich: “The identity of Europe” has gone up in flames

“I think Europe should be ashamed because this [fire] is the result of the despair in the heart of the people”, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), told Vatican News September 9.

Hollerich was speaking in the wake of the fire which ravaged the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos early Wednesday, sending 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers scrambling for their lives in an already difficult situation made worse by an outbreak of the coronavirus.

Migrant advocates have long been warning about the health and safety dangers in the camp, which has been at six times its capacity overall and the home, also, of thousands of children, pregnant women, elderly people and other at-risk groups.

“I think it’s a shame for Europe, because it’s not only the camp – Moria – on fire, but it’s the identity of Europe” that has gone up in flames, Hollerich deplored.

“People came to Europe for help in their distress, and we left them on a small Greek island, with many words but no deeds”, the cardinal denounced.

Hollerich recalled a visit he made to Lesbos in 2019 – an occasion on which he said he noted the “deep despair” in the hearts of refugees and asylum seekers in the migrant camp there.

“Darkness has come into the hearts of these people, and I think the fire is a consequence of that attitude. An attitude that is fuelled by our inaction”, the cardinal rued, calling for a “common European policy” on refugees and asylum seekers to avert humanitarian disasters such as yesterday’s fire.

“We cannot claim the Christian roots of Europe if we let people down in their despair”, Hollerich warned, asking: “If Italy, a country with a lot of problems due to the Covid pandemic, can accept so many people, why can’t the rich countries of Europe not do more to help the refugees?”

– Cardinal Krajewski: “Hope is being killed” in “concentration camps”

Hollerich’s partner in his 2019 trip to Lesbos was Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner.

Krajewski told the Catholic News Service that even since Pope Francis visited refugee settlements on Lesbos in 2016 “we have been asking them to empty these concentration camps, but they let us take only the small groups that we have brought to Italy at the Vatican’s expense in collaboration with the Community of Sant’Egidio”.

“Sooner or later it was bound to happen”, Krajewski lamented with regard to the fire in the Moria migrant camp, adding that “the refugees who entered Europe” through Greece only now to be stuck in the overcrowded and unsanitary settlements “are at the limit of supporting such an inhuman situation”.

“It’s like their hope is being killed”, Krajewski deplored, calling for an EU permanent resettlement program for the refugees on the Greek islands.

– German Bishops: “Europe can no longer afford to turn a blind eye”

One other Church leader to refer to the Moria fire Wednesday was Archbishop Stefan Hesse, the chairman of the German Bishops’ Migration Commission and their spokesman for refugee issues.

Hesse released a statement in which he deplored that the fire was “a catastrophe waiting to happen”.

“The news of the fire in the Moria refugee camp must not leave indifferent anyone who bears responsibility in politics and Church”, Hesse insisted, adding that “more than ever before, Germany and Europe have a duty to end the disastrous conditions on Lesbos and to provide a humane reception for those seeking protection.

“What is required is the political will to find a solution in the spirit of European solidarity, i.e. a fair division of responsibility between the EU states in the reception of asylum seekers”, the German archbishop continued.

“The previous political blockades must be overcome. If not all member states are prepared to do so, a humanitarian coalition of the willing must lead the way. Europe can no longer afford to turn a blind eye”.

More on Novena on Church criticisms on the conditions in the migrant camps on the Greek islands:

Scalabrinian sisters head to Lesbos migrant camp to offer “a future and hope” to refugees

Migrant activist deplores: “Refugees on Samos are being treated worse than animals”

Coronavirus: Jesuit Refugee Service warns situation for asylum seekers on Lesbos a “health bomb”

“Human dignity is not in quarantine”: EU Bishops urge states to “generosity” in relocating asylum seekers from Greek islands


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.