On two consecutive nights, fires tore through the Moria reception centre on the island of Lesvos, forcing more than 12,000 people to flee their temporary shelters.

At least 35 people residing in the camp are known to have tested positive for Covid19. This latest tragedy exposes vulnerable individuals to even greater health risk at a moment when the Emergency Section of the island’s hospital is completely full. The Greek Government has put the island into a state of emergency for the next four months.

Imogen Sudbery, Director of Policy and Advocacy, IRC Europe, said:

More than 12,000 people, including 4,000 children and other vulnerable individuals, have been left homeless after fires engulfed Moria camp, destroying almost all of its facilities and shelters. People who have already faced unthinkable dangers and indignities have once again lost their shelters and belongings. Many have faced no choice but to sleep on beaches, fields or the road.

The Greek government must uphold the human rights of the people seeking protection in Greece and protect former camp residents who include the elderly, pregnant women and people with disabilities. But it should not have to resolve this crisis alone. We are urgently calling on other European countries to offer to relocate the most vulnerable from the Greek islands, following the positive example set by 11 Member States who volunteered to relocate more than 1,600 unaccompanied minors earlier this year. In a Union based on solidarity, no country should bear sole responsibility for receiving people in need of international protection.

We welcome Commissioner Johansson’s swift action to transfer 406 unaccompanied children on Lesvos to the mainland. However, these critical actions to address urgent humanitarian needs must not distract from the underlying issues which have caused thousands to be trapped in such terrible conditions on the islands. In the coming weeks, the European Commission will unveil its new Pact on Migration and Asylum. This Pact is a chance for a fresh new start towards building a common approach to forced migration that puts people, not borders, at the heart of its policies.

We call on the EU and Member States to unite behind a clear commitment that Moria, and other camps like it, will not become a blueprint for their response to forced migration and be replicated as part of the Pact. It is crystal clear that policies of detention and deterrence do not work, and only serve to create immense human suffering.

The IRC is on the ground ready to help, providing mental health support and distributing some essential items. However, these are no replacement for the long-term, sustainable policy changes that could have prevented this humanitarian crisis from happening in the first place. The Pact is an opportunity to remedy this, it must not be missed.