On the night of Tuesday, April 7, a 17-year-old Afghan teenager was killed in a clash with asylum seekers at Camp Moria, a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
The young man was injured in the fight and taken to hospital, but did not survive. According to those at Camp Moria, clashes and rows among asylum seekers have intensified in recent weeks. Their monthly salaries have not been paid during the quarantine of the camp due to the outbreak of coronavirus and the closure of various offices and organizations.
Following the outbreak and the opening of Turkey's borders to Europe in late February, the Greek government made a series of decisions, from quarantining refugee camps - where at least two cases of coronavirus have so far been recorded - to changing the registration procedure for asylum seekers to receive social insurance, as well as suspending new asylum applications.
Some time ago, it was announced that the Greek government, after paying asylum seekers' monthly salaries, would bring ATMs into the camps so that they could instead receive their salaries in cash. It was also said that key health items were going to be provided to the refugees.
But the refugees tell a different story. They are still deprived of health supplies in various camps, including the overcrowded Camp Moria. They have no masks, no disinfectants, and no medical supervision. Social distancing is largely considered a joke at Camp Moria, which has a capacity of less than 4,000 and is presently accommodating more than 20,000 people. So far, two coronavirus infections have been reported among asylum seekers at two camps in Athens. One was a 53-year-old Afghan man who contracted the virus at Malakasa refugee camp and died in hospital a few days later. His family has been evacuated from the camp, but their fate remains unclear.
Now, in a time of heightened days public panic about the spread of the virus in refugee camps, asylum seekers have expressed concern that, in their words: "If the virus spreads in the camps, there will be a massacre." The lack of sanitary facilities and the non-allocation of masks, gloves, and disinfectants in the camps, which operate without water and electricity for several hours during the day, has forced refugee women to embroider cloth masks themselves. Some grassroots organizations have provided them with cloth so that they can work on their own and sew masks that, according to the World Health Organization, afford to protection against the virus.
In addition to this horror, there is another tragedy going on. Immigrants who sought security and a better life overseas are caught in an ongoing situation in which no one cares about their fate, and they are deprioritized. These people are angry and disengaged, and a battle for survival now appears to be taking place on the ground. Poverty, a lack of hygiene facilities, and neglect are fuelling a war within the refugee community.
The killing of the Afghan teenager in recent days is one example of the violence that has gripped the refugee community. "After the teenager was killed, the situation inside the camp has become more tense," a member of a non-governmental organization told AFP. Asylum seekers also told IranWire that in recent days, a number of migrants have attempted to rob one another by storming tents and other asylum seekers' shelters. Procuring a cold steel weapon like a knife at Camp Moria is easy, and conflicts between people who hail from different nations, as well as between them, are not new, but the growing crisis has worsened the situation.
"Clashes between the Hazaras and the Pashtuns in Afghanistan have been ongoing," a refugee woman at Camp Moria told IranWire. "There has always been genocide. Now the same people have come here and are pouring into one another's tents at night. The elder Hazaras have approached the police and reported it, but the police tell them this is an ethnic issue and nothing to do with them, and that the Afghans must work together. Last week, a major war broke out between the Hazara and Pashtun tribes. Although peace was agreed, it is still happening and young people are being stabbed or killed. Tents are set on fire. The police have said that they can't do anything about it."
These flare-ups are, of course, not limited to Afghans: they are sometimes larger and occur between Arabs, Iranians and Africans, as though those involved are seeking prove the legitimacy of a nation over another, at the expense of human lives.
Meanwhile, other asylum seekers complain about police surveillance and security guards at asylum camps. "Police are not coming in to end the fighting," they say. "They wait until some people are killed or injured, then arrest a group or remove the bodies from the camp."
On the morning of Friday, April 10, a group of refugees staged a sit-in in front of Camp Moria to protest against the escalation of violence, as well as the non-payment of monthly salaries: a contributing factor to the violence as residents are thrust deeper into poverty. "We just want justice," their placards read. According to those present at the rally, Greek police arrived on the scene an hour later and told them their demands would be met.
In the wake of criticism from numerous human rights organizations, the new Greek government has begun removing refugees from the camps in recent months in line with its earlier promise to evacuate them. As stipulated by an agreement between Turkey and the European Union, asylum seekers arriving on Greek islands must remain there until their asylum application is finalized. If it is approved, they will then be transferred to Athens and surrounding camps and if their application is blocked, they will be returned to Turkey or to their countries of origin. The European Union, on the other hand, has promised to accommodate asylum seekers from Turkey. Turkey has always said that this process is not going well.
While a few hundred people are due to move over to Athens each week, asylum seekers are still arriving on the islands in droves, even in the present situation when the coronavirus pandemic has terrified the wider world. Without realizing what awaits them, these people come to the islands in the hope of reaching Europe, and if they survive the sea crossing, they wander in Greek camps indefinitely. Survival in these camps has become a daily issue for refugees, both in terms of pollution and poverty, and also in terms of conflicts within the world of asylum seekers.