On 11 June 2021, the trial against four of the six teenage migrants accused of burning down Moria Camp will take place on the Greek island of Chios. From the moment of their arrest and before any due process of law, they have been presented to the public as the culprits. Two co-accused minors were already convicted to prison sentences in March, despite a lack of evidence and a trial riddled with irregularities.
We are deeply concerned that their right to a fair and just trial based on the presumption of innocence is not guaranteed and that they are instead made scapegoats for the inhumane EU migration policy. We stand in solidarity with the Moria 6 & against the deadly European border regime!
On 8 September 2020, the infamous refugee camp Moria on the Greek island of Lesvos burned down, fanned by a strong wind. The widespread and long-lasting fires, well-documented and almost live-broadcasted via social media, brought the ongoing policy of deterrence through inhumane conditions in Europe’s Hotspot Camps in the Aegean region back into the international media spotlight. (Footnote 1)
Rather than seeing the fire as an inevitable disaster in a deadly camp infrastructure, the Greek state arrested six young Afghan migrants and presented them as the culprits and sole cause for the fire, attempting to stifle further public debate on the living conditions inside the camp and the political responsibility. The fires took place at a time when the number of people living in the camp had reached 12,000, movement restrictions had been in place for almost six months and a growing fear of Covid-19 was spreading inside the camp. One week prior to the fire, the first person had been tested positive. Instead of moving infected people out of the camp and improving the living conditions for the people trapped inside, the government planned to completely seal off the entire camp with a double high-security Nato-wired fence and cracked down violently on any protest. (Footnote 2)
Not only do authorities deny any responsibility, there is also reason to assume that the accused cannot expect a fair and just trial. They were presented by authorities as guilty from the moment of their arrest. The Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum stated – only one week after the fire – that “the camp was set on fire by six Afghan refugees who were arrested”, violating their right to a fair trial under the presumption of innocence. Five of the Moria 6 were minors when they were arrested, but only two of them were recognised as such by the Greek state and consequently treated according to the Juvenile Criminal Code.
Concerns have already come to pass when the two officially recognized as minors stood trial in March 2021. At that time, the two had already been held in pre-trial detention for almost six months, the legal maximum period for minors, and consequently should have been released soon. In a hastily convened court hearing that flouted basic procedural standards of fairness (footnote 3), they were found guilty despite lack of evidence and sentenced to five years in prison.
The case of the Moria 6 is not the first time that migrants have been arbitrarily arrested and charged in Greece (see Moria 35). This practice has long been part of the inhumane EU border regime. However, in the current political environment, the criminalisation of migration has reached a new level, as have the illegal pushbacks of migrants by the authorities.
We call for fair and transparent trial on 11th of June!
We stand in solidarity with the Moria 6 & against the deadly European border regime!
We call on the EU and the Greek state to take responsibility for the inhuman camps they purposefully created and for the human suffering that is resulting thereof!
– Stop the containment of people at the margins of the EU!
– End the EU-Turkey Deal!
– No more Morias!
– Free the Moria 6!
++ Sign the appeal, share the information, organise solidarity actions under the hashtag #FreeTheMoria6 ++
(1) The fire had been preceded by many smaller ones throughout the years, e.g. caused by faulty wires or during cooking. They claimed the lives of two Kurdish migrants in November 2016, of Faride Tajik in September 2019, and of a 6-year-old girl in March 2020. No state agency, governing institution or camp management official has been held accountable for these fires resulting from overcrowding and a deadly camp infrastructure until this day.
(2) From March to September 2020, while movement restrictions were imposed on the camp, there was continuous protest: against the lack of public health measures, hunger strikes against arbitrary detention, demonstrations following outbreaks of deadly violence. Police responded by blocking the camp’s communication with the outside world, threatening suspected organisers with arrest, sometimes using tear gas and smoke bombs. The response to the fire was no different. The Greek state declared a state of emergency, sent riot police units from Athens to Lesvos, and used tear gas against migrants who had lost all their belongings in the fire and were scattered in the street, camping on the roadsides. The police also failed to protect people when armed far-right groups harassed them.
(3) For instance, the prosecution’s crown witness, who had caused the arrest of the accused through his testimony, did not appear and allegedly could not be located by the authorities. However, the prosecution was permitted to read out his written declaration, despite lawyers’ objection that this violated the defendants’ right to cross-examine any witness against them, a fundamental right confirmed by ECHR.