The Italian Jesuit Service for Refugees and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have denounced the death in a fire of a six-year-old girl in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

– “Inhumane conditions” in the Greek refugee camps “unacceptable and profoundly unjust”

Father Camillo Ripamonti, President of the Centro Astalli, the Italian Jesuit Refugee Service, described the death of the child as “an avoidable tragedy for which the European Union must feel the full weight of responsibility”.

“Remaining indifferent while thousands of migrants live in Europe in inhumane conditions is unacceptable and profoundly unjust, as well as a serious violation of the fundamental principles of our civilisation”, Ripamonti deplored.

“Solidarity and shared responsibility among the Member States would save the lives of Innocent people, including many children, in a sustainable way for all and without putting a burden on a single country, at this difficult time for governments and the entire international community”.

According to the Centro Astalli, so as to resolve a situation such as that on Lesbos that has long been a disgrace to the whole of Europe, the evacuation and immediate redistribution of migrants from Greece, as well as the interruption of agreements with Turkey, are both needed on the part of the EU.

According to firefighters, the flames have spread fear and panic among people living in the refugee camp, but there is no information on the reasons behind the blaze.

In a note, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recalled that this fire occurred only two months “after one that broke out in the Kara Tepe camp and five months after another that struck Moria in September 2019”.

“The European and Greek authorities, who continue to detain people in such inhumane conditions, are responsible for the repetition of these terrible episodes”, lamented MSF.

– Church aid organisation Caritas: “The situation is extremely tense and frustrating, the result of a lack of effective policies”

The fire that claimed the life of the six-year-old refugee Monday is not in the least the first tragedy to strike in Moria, a camp designed for 3,000 people but which currently houses some 20,000, of whom 40% are minors, some 1,000 of whom are unaccompanied.

According to recent estimations, there are some 42,000 asylum seekers trapped in the refugee camps on the Greek islands, having fled war and persecution in Afghanistan, Iran and Syria in the hope of a better life in Europe.

Back in the migrant crisis of 2015-16, when over a million people flocked to Europe’s shores, “Lesbos was a transit centre where people would quickly move on”, Maritina Koraki, coordinator of Caritas Hellas (Caritas Greece) programs for Lesbos, told ZENIT March 18.

“Now these people are stuck here for months, and in Moria that means living in dangerous and inhumane conditions”, Koraki denounced.

“I didn’t come here for fun. I came here because I didn’t have a choice. I don’t want money or a house, I just want to keep my family safe”, added Madgid Kazikhani of Afghanistan.

Kazikhani fled his country for Iran when his father was killed by the Taliban for having studied in the Ukraine, but was then forced to flee Iran after he was called up to fight in the war in Syria.

In the meantime, and while doing its best to attend to the healthcare, education and trauma counseling needs on those stranded on Lesbos, Caritas is denouncing both the hard-line approach to refugees adopted by the Greek and Turkish governments and also the fraying of tensions on the island between refugees and locals, which have intensified after the diagnosis of a coronavirus infection which could spread throughout the camps.

“The situation is extremely tense and frustrating”, Maria Alverti, director of Caritas Hellas, told ZENIT.

“It’s the result of a lack of effective policies in the last five years, the worsening of the situation was foreseeable”.

“The wars that forced these people to flee haven’t gone away”, added Koraki.

“Neither has their suffering and need for our help”.

(With reporting by Vatican News)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.