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Fundamental Children’s rights have been violated at Moria Refugee Camp

What is happening at Moria and around?

The Greek refugee camp north-east of Mytilene in Lesbos was originally intended to hold 3,000 people. However, 19,000 people were living at the Moria camp without basic needs.[1] Among the people living in and around Moria, 45% are children. According to UNICEF, at the end of 2018, 27,000 migrant children were present in Greece. Among those, only 1% lived in safe zones, while 57% lived in urban areas, 29% in accommodation sites or reception centres and 13% in identification centres on the islands.[2]

During the night of the 8th of September 2020, fire broke out in different parts around the refugee camp, leaving nearly 13,000 people without shelter. The project co-ordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, Marco Sandrone, described it as the bomb that finally exploded as people had been kept in inhumane conditions at the site for years. [3] Non-governmental organizations and UN Agencies have been warning that overcrowded conditions in refugee camps like Moria were ready to explode[4]. The situation is Lesbos is a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Human Rights Watch’s report on Greece/EU reported that since the fires, the people affected have had limited or inexistent access to food, water, sanitation facilities and health care –including those people who have tested positive for Covid-19. During the night of the fire and the following days, the government reacted sending Greek security forces to the camp who used teargas and stun grenades on displaced people. Indeed, police blocked the main road to Mytilene, forcing people to spend the night next to the road. [5]

Four weeks after the fires, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is calling for urgent action as on 8th October 2020, heavy rains have worsened the situation. The tents provided after the fires are only short-term interventions and cannot be sufficient for the winter. One of the reception centre, in Samos, is currently hosting 4,500 people, while the centre is meant to accommodate only 650. It seems to tell the same story again: a new overcrowded centre which is going to explode at some point if authorities are not taking actions. [6]

The situation is getting worse every day and as winter approaches the need increases.

The humanity is losing an entire generation without even realizing it

In 1989, in New York, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations. These standards are called human rights and they should be respected by every government. The Convention states that childhood, at least until 18, is separate from adulthood, and it is a protected time in which children must grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity.[7] The Convention has four core principles:

1. Non-discrimination
2. Devotion to the best interests of the child
3. The right to life, survival and development
4. Respect for the views of the child [8]

UNICEF defines the Convention as the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. The Convention consists of 54 articles, however, for the sake of this paper, ten articles (Articles 6, 13, 22, 24, 27, 28 and 31) will be taken into consideration to explain the violations committed in refugee camps like Moria.

“1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child”

                                            (Article 6, Convention on the Rights of the Child) [9]

The conditions in which children are growing up in the refugee camp are inhuman, therefore, the development of the child is at risk. After the fires in Moria, UNICEF reminded that its priority is to secure the immediate safety and protection of children. What happened in the camp is a reminder of an urgent need for a child-sensitive, humane EU Pact that respects children’s rights to adequate protection and services across Europe. [10]

“The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”

                                         (Article 13, Convention on the Rights of the Child)[11]

Although in our society the right for a child to express his ideas while drawing or writing is taken for granted, in a refugee camp like the ones in Greece, children don’t even have the possibility to get a piece of paper and a pencil to write. How can we expect to have this article respected if people in Lesbos don’t even have basic needs?

There are many other basic needs that in this moment are more necessary. Anyhow, according to the United Nations, this article counts as much as the others and it is considered a Fundamental Right. [12]

“States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties”

                                                (Article 22, Convention on the Rights of the Child)

This article in particular fits the situation we are taking into consideration in this analysis. The 9th of September 2020, UNICEF declared that 407 is the number of the vulnerable unaccompanied minors in Moria camp.[13] The debate behind the relocation of these unaccompanied minors begun beforehand but it was immediately re-discussed in the aftermath of the fires. In fact, the 11th of September, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced that ten European countries have agreed to take 400 unaccompanied minors from Greece. [14] Germany said they are ready to accept between 100 and 150 minors, followed by France and The Netherlands.[15]

Nevertheless, few days later, United Nations declared that the unaccompanied and separated children in Greece are almost 4,400 and they are in urgent need of solutions such as family reunion or relocation. [16]

“States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services”

(Article 24, Convention on the Rights of the Child)

In refugee camps in Greece, children are regularly contracting diseases related to the unhygienic living conditions. Moreover, many new-borns are diagnosed with symptoms of dehydration and without enough doctors and medicines some are also dying.[17]

“1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. […]

3. States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing”

                                                        (Article 27, Convention on the Rights of Child)

In the camp, there is no basic shelter for the cold winter nights. An eighteen-years old girl from Kabul was shocked when she arrived at the camp as the charity had to give her a coat and a blanket because there were no tents. A mom of a new-born infant and an eight-years old girl said that there was no food nor milk for the baby. Hundreds of people, including families with small children waited for hours for bottles of water to be distributed.[18]

“States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

Make primary education compulsory and available free to all […]

Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children”

(Article 28, Convention on the Rights of the Child)

“Will I be able to ask school there immediately?” is the first question a young girl asked when she saw the bus arriving to move them to another camp. The problem is that there is no school at all and nothing similar to give basic education to children.[19]

InfoMigrants stated that there is no formal education available for children, only some NGOs have ‘informal learning centres’ that were not working anymore after the fires.[20] Out of 6,300 children of school age in Lesbos, only 150 are enrolled in formal schools. [21]

Without the necessary education these children are supposed to receive, we are losing as a society a huge generation that will grow up without basic education. The latter does not only mean basic knowledge of subjects like maths and literature; these children are also missing the socialization with other individual, they are not learning basic values that will be necessary when in adulthood.

“1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

                                             (Article 31, Convention on the Rights on the Child)

The right to play is at the heart of children’s lives everywhere. The article 31 endorses an important component of children’s mental and physical health and therefore to their well-being, and it is clearly violated in places like Moria. The United Nations are worried that this article has become ‘the forgotten article’ around the world; and in a refugee camp, it is even worse.[22]

The role of the EU

In the aftermath of the fires, Mission Lifeline, one of the NGOs working on the field twitted that together with Moria, the “European idea has gone up in flames”. Indeed, what happened in Moria is one of the biggest failure of the EU so far.

Nevertheless, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum by the European Commission is the new approach the EU will have to address the problem of border management.

The New Pact took in consideration children’s rights and there are new rules that will ensure the best interest of the child. In fact, families with children under 12 years-old and unaccompanied children will be exempt from border procedures. Family reunification will be also strengthened by enlarging the definition of family members to include siblings and families formed in transit countries. [23]

There are positive additions to the criteria used to determine which Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application and this is strictly related to children. Indeed, despite the expanded definition of family, the Member State has now to confer the receipt of a diploma or other qualification to the minor.[24]

Many progresses are being made by the EU. However, working faster in this case is necessary to ensure that we are not completely losing an entire generation of children that deserve respect of all their Fundamental Children Rights.

[1] Harriet Grant. ‘Moria is a hell’: new arrivals describe life in a Greek refugee camp. The Guardian. 17th January 2020.

[2] Infomigrants. Children of Moria – A generation lost. Aasim Saleem. Infomigrants. 25th November 2019.  

[3] BBC. Moria migrants: Fire destroys Greek camp leaving 13,000 without shelter. BBC. 9th Semptember 2020.

[4] Emma Wallis. Reactions to Moria fires: ‘EU migration policy has gone up in flames too”. Infomigrants. 9th September 2020.

[5] Human Rights Watch. Greece/EU: Bring Moria Homeless to Safety. Human Rights Watch. 16th September 2020.

[6] UNHCR. A month after Moria fires, UNHCR warns of worsening conditions ahead of winter. UNHCR. 9th October 2020.

[7] UNICEF. What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child? New York.

[8] Office of the Advocate for Children and Young people. The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Strawberry Hills NSW. 2012.

[9] United Nations. Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York. 20th November 1989.

[10] UNICEF. UNICEF statement on fire at Moria Camp in Lesvos, Greece. Geneva. 9th September 2020.

[11] ibid

[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] DW News. Moria refugee camp: Germany to take in up to 150 children. DW News. 11th September 2020.

[16] Mattia Marzorati. Moria fires aftermath: More than 1,000 asylum seekers relocated from Greece this year. UN News. 30th September 2020.

[17] Ibid

[18] BBC. Moria migrants: European countries agree to take minors after fire. BBC. 11th September 2020.

[19] Ibid

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

[22] IPA. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1st May 2012

[23] European Commission. New Pact on Migration and Asylum: Questions and Answers. European Commission. Brussels. 23rd September 2020.

[24] Human Rights Watch. The Pact on Migration and Asylum. Human Rights Watch. 8th October 2020.

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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