The Wrong Story: a scandalous UNHCR press release

A very shocking story from Chios camp...

Just occasionally, UNHCR manages to do something even more shocking than usual. Yesterday, it was this press release from Chios. What were they thinking?

The press release celebrates a group of ‘enthusiastic’ volunteers living in Chios refugee camp who have taken action to sew masks. According to the article, UNHCR and the Camp Directorship ‘appealed’ for volunteers and a group of 17 individuals stepped forward. They were equipped with sewing machines ‘and all necessary materials’ by UNHCR ‘with the support of the European Union’.

It makes me feel sick.

How dare an agency such as UNHCR attempt to window-dress such a catastrophe of human rights and compassion? To divert from the reality of what’s going on in this camp? How dare they go so far as to suggest that providing ‘all necessary materials’ to sew masks in noteworthy when the fundamental fabric of life - basic human rights - are sorely absent from camp?

Here are 3 more reasons I'm so shocked:

1) Volunteers by choice?

Within the de facto detention centre which Chios camp now is, it’s ludicrous to celebrate ‘volunteering’ of the detained community, and even more ludicrous (or downright scary) that the very authorities responsible for this injustice seize an opportunity for a PR stunt like this. Within the confines of the camp, there are zero opportunities for meaningful employment, whilst individuals wait months for their asylum cases. With the millions of euros available to the authorities, it shouldn't get to the point that at-risk individuals held in such conditions now also need to work for free to produce masks to simply protect themselves and their loved ones. When a UN worker in Geneva can take home €10,000 a month, why can't a tiny fraction of this money go at least to supporting these 'volunteers'?

2) This is not the story.

Thousands of men, women and children are detained in Chios camp without their most fundamental human rights being upheld. It is scandalous that UNHCR attempt to suggest that the story is one of making masks. No. The real and tragic story is that the government and EU have forced tens of thousands of people to live in overcrowded conditions where Covid-19 poses a heightened risk to these refugees’ lives. Close the camps! Don't trap people inside and force them to sew for their lives!

3) Provide fundamental rights, not sewing machines

Are we to give thanks to the UNHCR and EU for their generosity of spirit? Apparently, they provided ‘all necessary materials’ for this quasi-sweat-shop to be set up in the camp. But let’s remember: there should be no celebrating this tiny act of ‘giving’. How dare they even mention the couple of hundred euros spent on these machines when millions of euros have gone on building ever-higher barbed-wire walls, depressive and remote camps, and squandered on hostile approaches to migration!

The press release is, at best, simply the wrong story to tell. At worst, it is a Trumpian, dystopian, post-Truth attempt to steer the narrative away from the story of scandalous human rights violations at this refugee camp. Don’t be fooled!