SOS UK’s CEO Alison Wallace explains why the fire which destroyed Moria camp demonstrates the need for urgent political action.
It’s really hard to hear the devastating news of the fire which has ravaged the refugee camp in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos, leaving its inhabitants with nothing. It’s not just hard to hear because these are children, families, people who have already lost everything as they fled whatever unspeakable horrors they faced in their home country. It’s hard to hear because this should never have happened – these people should not have had to sit for years in an overcrowded camp waiting for a solution.
Only a week or so ago, we were faced with the unbearable images of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose picture made global headlines 5 years ago, when he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and was found washed up on a Turkish beach. That was a critical moment – or so we thought – it felt like the balance had shifted. Something had to be done. No more children should meet the same fate.
But the fire in Moria is another example of how the UK and EU are still failing refugee children. A camp bordered by barbed wire was the temporary home of thousands of children, including unaccompanied minors, waiting for a permanent home that never seemed to come. Now, they are left with nothing; they are traumatised and are in immediate need of safety and protection.
How many tragedies will it take for governments to finally take action? It is easy to “forget” children that seem to become invisible behind that barbed wires. It is easy to forget that those children are there – they are out of sight, out of mind. And the longer a temporary solution like the camp at Moria, the less temporary it seems, especially to those governments around the world who would otherwise have to find a more permanent solution.
Organisations like SOS Children’s Villages then start to offer support to those families, giving them counselling, an informal school, and trying to find a relative somewhere, anywhere, who will take them in and give them a long-term safe home. Those incredible colleagues of mine making life just a bit more bearable inadvertently give governments the impression they are off the hook, that the problem is somehow solved. And it takes a fire burning a camp to the ground for the world to sit up and take notice.
This temporary, short-term support must not be allowed to continue for another five years. We believe the UK can and should bring some of these children to safety and provide safe, legal routes for them to restart their lives. We are supporting our friends at Safe Passage and calling for the UK to urgently help resettle child refugees from the Greek islands. You can help. You can give these children the chance of a future. Please email the Prime Minister now.