OPINION: Europe is closing its eyes to the plight of refugees at the Greek Moria camp

by Francisca Bohle Carbonell | Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres - USA
Friday, 18 September 2020 13:59 GMT

Flames rise as tents burn during a fire at the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

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The fire that gutted the Moria facility a week ago left over 12,000 people without shelter, sanitation or access to food and water

Francisca Bohle Carbonell is the Nurse Activity Manager for MSF’s clinic opposite Moria camp. She was on the frontline responding to the needs after the fire destroyed the camp and left 12,000 people on the streets without access to medical care.

I have been working for the last 5 years on the so-called “migration crisis” in different places in Europe.

When I came back to Lesbos in March 2020 for the second time I was unfortunately not surprised how the situation had gone from bad to worse.

When I arrived in March 2020, 21,000 people were “living” in Moria camp. A camp with the capacity to shelter 3,000 people. Read those number again: 21,000 people for a camp with a capacity of 3,000.

Approximately 40% of the population are children, and 7 out of 10 are under 12 years old.

Before the fire the waiting area of our clinic opposite the camp was overcrowded by parents, children and mother reaching out for help and reassurance.

It’s all about survival in Moria. Children having to deal with their own traumas, while absorbing their parent’s frustration, sadness, desperation and often psychological or psychiatric conditions. I can’t count the amount of times I was called in waiting or consultation area for parents breaking down.

And so often, I repeated the same things in my head “If I would be that mother of this child, if I would be the one having to queue every single day 2-3 times a day for hours  in  order to get food (or any other kind of service) for my family, if I had to fear for my child safety every night when going to the toilet, if I would be the one not being able to reassure my child anymore when they ask me, why are we living in these horrible conditions?

If I had to see my child crying and screaming every night because of nightmares that just won’t go away. If I had to watch my child’s behaviour change; becoming aggressive, not eating, self-harming, or having suicidal thoughts…

I would react in the same way. Or worse...


A week ago, when the fire destroyed Moria camp, 12,000 people were left on the streets. A population composed of 23% of women and 39% of children, which means that more than half of the people in the camp were women and children.

Finding themselves with even less than what they had before. Even less access to healthcare, food, water, toilets or simply a safe and dignified place to sleep.

Having nowhere to go, thousands slept rough in a parking lot of a supermarket or the streets. I saw a population destroyed, exhausted and left with no hope. And no-one seems to care.

For the past week I have been going up and down the street between our two clinics, looking for patients I know; mothers that are about to give birth, children who need regular medication, children with severe mental health trauma, mothers who have suffered severe panic attacks, survivors of sexual violence.

The list of desperation never ends.

All have been on the streets for over a week, left with no other option than to accept with humiliation walking into another camp where they know, the everyday trauma will continue. That is their choice: walking back into a nightmare, or sleeping in the streets.

Europe seems not to care about these people and their hopes. We close our eyes and forget what is happening.

Some EU state members seem to think taking 0.01% of the people here is enough, when they could receive thousands more. It would be more dignified not to do nothing, than to pretend to do something while praising yourself for it.

I have felt extremely ashamed of being European in the last years of my life.

And seeing how Europe has reacted in the past week has only confirmed my profound belief that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

As Europeans, and as individuals. I wonder how we will be able to justify this when looking back. We are complicit in completely destroying people’s hope, dignity and ability to survive.


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