More than 12,000 people were left in emergency need of shelter after fires swept through the Moria camp on 9 September 2020 Shutterstock/GeorgGassauer

Eleven families arrive in Ireland from Moria refugee camp in Lesbos

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said their arrival had taken ‘longer than hoped’ due to Covid-19.

ELEVEN FAMILIES FROM the fire-destroyed Greek refugee camp Moria have arrived in Ireland, eleven months since the government first made the commitment to resettle 50 people.

Welcoming the families this evening, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman acknowledged that their arrival was delayed due to Covid-19.

“While all efforts were made to accelerate the arrival of these families, their arrival has taken longer than we would have hoped, as a result of Covid-19,” the Minister tweeted this evening.

Seven of the families have been transferred to accommodation centres, while four families were transferred to community sponsorship groups.

More than 12,000 people were left in emergency need of shelter after fires swept through the Moria camp on 9 September 2020. 

Ireland made the commitment to resettle 50 people in family groups under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) on 1 October last year. 

Officials from the IRPP and An Garda Síochána were due to travel to Greece in the weeks following McEntee’s announcement on a “selection and security screening” mission. However, it did not commence until 31 May of this year.

During the selection process, members of An Garda Síochána carried out security checks, including fingerprinting and interviews, according to the Department of Children.

Meanwhile, members of the IRPP carried out interviews focused on “cultural integration, ensuring that proposed refugees understand the culture of Ireland which refugees will be expected to embrace along with ensuring that refugees understand that their culture and religion will be respected in Ireland”.

Separately, the government agreed to resettle 36 unaccompanied minors from Lesbos. Four children arrived last summer, and the remaining 28 are expected in Ireland by the end of this month. 

‘Harmful policies’

The 2015 migration crisis saw Moria – built just two years earlier to hold 3,000 people – inundated as a huge wave of migrants began arriving on small boats from nearby Turkey. As other European states responded by shutting their borders, the bottlenecks grew.

As numbers at Moria ballooned to 20,000, the camp became a byword for squalor and violence, where prostitution, sexual assault, disappearances of minors, drug trafficking and fights were rife. Then late on 8 September, the first of two fires broke out.

No one died in the blaze, but it sparked a chaotic exodus of 12,000 people.

Lesbos locals, who had seen more than 450,000 migrants pass through in a year, were enraged as towns, villages and fields were again flooded – including by children, pregnant women and disabled people forced to sleep rough for days. Against strong local opposition, authorities set up a camp on a former army range. 

One year later, dozens of NGOs, including Amnesty International, are accusing Greece of  pursuing “harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees.”

In a joint report, 45 NGOs and civil society groups said the Greek government is pursuing “harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees.”

Greek authorities stress that Lesbos is significantly less crowded, and that migration flows are also lower. Greek Migration Minister Mitarachi said the country “is no longer and will never again become the gateway to Europe”.

The right-leaning government elected in 2019 also denies imploring a policy of forcibly pushing back would-be refugees before they can claim asylum on Greek soil.

Human rights groups say the reduced migrant flow reflects the current government’s more hardline approach to even legitimate refugees, and attribute the reduction in numbers to a policy of forcibly pushing arrivals back to Turkey.

The European Commission last March announced €276 million of EU funding to build migrant centres on five Aegean islands facing Turkey, including Lesbos.

A new camp was due to open on Lesbos before winter, but work has yet to begin. On Samos Island, a new camp is due to open at the end of the month.

- With reporting from AFP. 

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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