On September 7 2020, the Moria camp on Lesvos burned to the ground. Thankfully there were no deaths. The total destruction of the camp, originally built to accommodate 3,000 people, left 13,000 homeless overnight.
It compelled an immediate response. From the European Union, from Member States, and from Greek authorities. The Commission supported the rapid transfer and accommodation of 406 unaccompanied children and teenagers from Lesvos to the mainland of Greece. Member States supplied 170,000 urgently needed items, clothes, tents and food. Since then, more children have been flown out and more items flown in.
That September, in the European Parliament the President of the Commission and myself made the pledge; “No more Morias”. On 3 December, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Greek Government.
At the time, I said that this is about people and their basic right to feel safe. This agreement is an important step towards a sustainable solution in Lesvos and in making sure that a situation like Moria should never happen again.
The grant came only weeks after the Moria fire but still too late for the 7,200 who faced a tough winter despite the Commission’s winterisation programme. They endured difficult conditions.
Winter hardship in 2020-2021 was unfortunate. Winter hardship in 2021-2022 must be avoided.
That is why I am travelling to Lesvos on 29 March. All responsible authorities must double their efforts and play their part. EU funding, Greek Government and local knowledge and expertise, and International organisation oversight, to show that we can meet our legal obligations and bolster Europe’s democratic reputation.
And our biggest friend is transparency. We need it to make sure we stick to our commitments, spend funding wisely and deliver functional facilities.
And what are these facilities? We have over 155 million euros dedicated to building reception centre on Lesvos and Chios. In addition, a further 121m for smaller centres on the islands of Samos, Kos and Leros. In total over a quarter of a billion euros.
This is sufficient funding for acceptable standards on a reasonable timetable.
These are facilities that will not be closed, they will be humane, and allow for areas for families and vulnerable people. They will allow children to get schooling – essential so that precious years are not wasted.
But they will also be designed to make the process fair and efficient, including for those who are not allowed to stay.
Their construction should be prioritised and they should be staffed with those who ensure they are functional and efficient.
But a reception centre is only a part of the picture.
As Greece and other countries of first entry of irregularly arriving migrants have recently made clear, we need to have a system that is more European. This view thankfully is shared across the whole 27 and is shared here in the Commission. More European, both in the capacity to return those who do not qualify for protection and in the provision of solidarity by Member states. Our intention is not and has never been that Greece, or indeed Malta, Cyprus, Italy or Spain become holding centres. This is not acceptable for these countries, for the EU as a whole and indeed for the migrants themselves.
Instead, the New Pact that we proposed in September of last year is intended to introduce mandatory solidarity to a functional, effective, more Europeanised, migration system.
We have outlined detailed proposals that show how with screening, clear categorisation and border procedures the system can be improved significantly.
And there is a window of opportunity. It is a moment where arrivals have been at their lowest for 8 years. Backlogs are being cleared. Facilities are less crowded. Progress is being made.
We need to use this window to match two principles that are the best of the European Union. That is standing up to heed the call of our international obligations and doing so shoulder to shoulder.
So I will go to Greece with a message that can be applied to my hosts and indeed to all EU Member States. Spring is the best time to prepare for winter.
- Publication date
- 24 March 2021
- Directorate-General for Communication