In 2015, they passed quickly through Moria camp when Europe largely tolerated the movement of migrants. But in 2016, Europe changed tack, blocking the onward movement of migrants to countries like Germany and leaving thousands stranded in squalid Greek camps like Moria, which soon became overcrowded.
Since then, Moria has been considered an emblem of Europe’s hardening approach to migrants in the aftermath of the 2015 crisis. Built for only 3,000 residents, the camp population at times swelled to more than 20,000. Residents lived mostly in cramped and overcrowded tents with limited access to toilets, showers and health care.
They lined up for hours for food that was often moldy. And they became enmeshed in what for many migrants seemed an interminably complex asylum application process, leading to what some doctors deemed a mental health crisis at the camp.
The situation has been no better in other camps on nearby Greek islands, where, before the fire, more than 23,000 people have been crammed into camps built for just 6,000, according to recent statistics compiled by aid groups.
The dynamic has created deep hostility between migrants and Greek islanders who, once welcoming to their new neighbors, have grown increasingly resentful. It has also led the Greek government to immediately expel many new arrivals this year, abandoning more than 1,000 immigrants in rafts at sea.
Given these conditions, campaigners had long predicted a catastrophe at the camp.
“This fire was expected,” said Eva Cossé, who leads research in Greece for Human Rights Watch, an independent New York-based rights organization. “It’s not surprising. It’s a testament to the European Union’s negligence and Greece’s negligence.”
Human Rights Watch has been calling for the camp to be closed or its number of residents to be significantly reduced for years.