Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, had been described by its inhabitants as ‘hell on earth’. The difference was that Moria housed the victims of sin, not the sinners. In Dante’s Inferno, the first Circle of Hell is Limbo, and Moria was exactly that. Since the fire which burnt the camp to the ground, the 8,000 refugees must feel as though they are descending into a perverse ninth Circle, where the victims of treachery and not the perpetrators, are frozen in a lake of ice. Huddled on the shore and exposed to winter storms, the new camp is a cruel contrast to the heat and smoke that engulfed Moria on 9 September. In these conditions only two things are thriving. Disease and human trafficking.
The freezing Inferno
Moria recorded its first Covid case on 1 September, and the chaos that the virus caused is believed to have led to the fire. As it devoured the camp, fleeing refugees were forced back by the Greek police, who used tear gas to blind and terrify people who were already scared for their lives, the lives of their friends and of their families. In the following days the Greek army arrived, banning journalists from the camp, but so far failing to prevent neo-Nazis from attacking aid workers and refugees. Like racist stag dos, groups of young white men descend on Lesvos from all over Europe to defend white civilisation. Once on the island, they merge with local fascists to target anyone associated with the camp.
To the neo-Nazi’s chagrin, 1,000 refugees have been evacuated to Europe since the fire. This is a hopelessly small number from what is Europe’s largest refugee camp. The fire has meant that many who already had few material possessions now have none. Yet some hoped that the fire would make their plight an unavoidable issue in the West. These hopes have been dashed on the shores of Fortress Europe. Many refugees on Lesvos, and in particular women, who have been denied education in their home countries, believed in the promise of Europe. A promise endorsed often by European leaders. This is the nature of the Inverse Inferno; the betrayed are left to freeze.
Politics of fear
The refugees on Lesvos don’t sound dangerous to me, and there are millions more like them in Turkey. Yet this is not what the EU and our national leaders would have us believe. By manufacturing Fortress Europe, the EU has codified and enshrined the fear that many Europeans felt during the initial ‘refugee crisis’ of 2016. This fear has been exploited throughout Western Europe over the past five years. We have witnessed Brexit, the success of Le Penn in France, the League in Italy, and Alternative for Deutschland in Germany. In Eastern Europe, razor wire is going up as the fog of reaction descends. Across the continent, the exploitation of this fear has become a depressingly lugubrious feature of domestic politics. This reaction was predictable. If you characterise a continent as a fortress, you shouldn’t be surprised when its inhabitants act as if they’re under attack.
Europe’s fear of refugees is not just being exploited internally, however. By declaring Fortress Europe and terrorising its citizens, the EU has put itself at the mercy of Turkish president Erdogan, who threatens to ‘flood’ Europe with refugees if he doesn’t get his way. The refugees in Turkey, or trapped on Lesvos and other Greek islands are vulnerable. They should not scare us. By fearing refugees, Europe has turned them into a weapon. A weapon that the Turkish state now wields. This has consequences well beyond Lesvos. Turkey’s unilateral intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, support for Islamic fundamentalists, and ethnic cleansing of the Kurds in Syria, has all gone unanswered. Until we disarm our fears, the EU will not take concrete action. Another Brexit could conclude the European project. In Brussels, Erdogan’s threat is existential.
There are two options available to the EU. One is to accept Europe’s new status as Turkey’s hostage, cowering at its own shadow. The other is to embark on a continent-wide campaign promoting tolerance and the benefits of migration. Extensive funding should be available for states that need it, reducing the strain that mass migration can pose to weak infrastructure. This will not be a quick or easy process. It might never be complete. Yet strong borders are pointless if the portcullis remains permanently raised for the authoritarian regime in Ankara.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s line that the ‘only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ is tired and overused. In this instance however, it is exactly right.