Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The inhumanity of Europe’s refugee policy

The EU’s asylum and security policies have deliberately turned refugee camps into torture chambers through a reckless disregard for human dignity, forcing asylum seekers themselves to provide the support they need that their warders will not give

By Costas Georgiades and Luca Bucken

Illustration: Mountain people

For the asylum seekers in the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, the word “almost” has become a source of devastation. They almost made it. They are almost at the end of their brutal journey.

As Aarash, a 27-year-old father of a young daughter and an MBA graduate from Kabul, Afghanistan, put it: “When all is said and done, we are only almost human.”

And Europe only almost welcomes them.

“Almost” causes unbearable despair to the asylum seekers trapped on Lesbos and Samos, who have already endured the trauma of their journey and camp life.

According to a report released in October last year by Doctors without Borders, nearly 50 percent of refugees on Samos experienced violence while passing through Turkey, and close to 25 percent had experienced violence since arriving in Greece.

Officials undertaking vulnerability assessments at Moria are left asking not whether someone has been raped, but how brutally and how often.

Against this background, it is unsurprising that residents suffer psychologically. Yet the waiting list for psychological treatment is more than 500 names long, meaning that few will end up receiving any support at all.

In the meantime, a small clinic run by the Greek nonprofit Emergency Response Center International in Moria confronts cases of self-harm daily, and suicide is not uncommon.


The trauma specialist Paul Stevenson described a demoralization syndrome that he observed during his work at migrant detention centers on Nauru, off the Australian coast. Following a natural disaster, he says, the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder is about 3 percent. After a terrorist attack, that figure rises to about 25 percent. In the case of torture and incarceration, it jumps to 50 percent, because that “is considered to be the most demoralizing situation” a person can experience.

Psychological torture and incarceration are effectively what asylum seekers in the Moria camp now face. Although they are permitted to come and go as they please, there are no alternative living spaces or food-distribution points. Conditions in the camp are characterized by cramped and inadequate facilities — an estimated 6,600 asylum seekers are currently residing in a camp built for 3,000 — not to mention the constant threat of abuse.

This situation contrasts sharply with the EU’s narrative. A year after the European refugee crisis — or, more accurately, refugee-management crisis — peaked in the summer of 2015, the EU declared that the situation was under control.

However, while it is true that fewer refugees were arriving on Europe’s shores, anyone who has been to Lesbos lately knows that the crisis is far from over.

Analysts have likened the EU’s asylum and security policies in the Mediterranean since 2015 to the construction of a “fortress Europe.” If the EU is a fortress, Moria camp is its torture chamber, with nightmarish conditions that have been well documented.

This is no longer a “refugee crisis” or even a refugee “management crisis.” It is now a humanitarian crisis by design. Given the EU’s data and resources, this outcome can be viewed only as intentional.

Appalling conditions are being allowed to prevail in refugee camps, because authorities want to deter other asylum seekers — including some who arguably have no right to international protection – from trying to get in, and potentially even to impel some who have arrived to return home. Better camp conditions and allowing refugees to reach the Greek mainland, the logic goes, would contribute to another surge in crossings.

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