americananthropologist.org | 3 February 2022
The Moria Fire as Catastrophe: Scenes of Witnessing
Frame 1: The Live and the Local
We’re here in Larso. It’s very windy. We’re here near the center where residents of Moria and the neighboring area are holding a protest. They’ve written “KYT [Reception and Identification Center] Finished” on the road so it won’t be rebuilt. . . . I’ve got a bad signal unfortunately. It’s very windy (Sto Nisi 2020b).
September 10, 2020. It’s two days after a massive fire broke out at Europe’s largest refugee camp on the island of Lesvos. Journalists from the local Greek-language news portal Sto Nisi (On the Island), set up in 2019 by progressive local journalists, are broadcasting live on Facebook, as they had been doing since the fire began at the Moria Reception and Identification Center. The brief video clip, now archived on their Facebook page, is jarring to watch. The camera, seeking out locals to interview, bounces around abruptly. The journalist, her back turned to the phone most of the time, never addresses the lens or introduces herself. The wind howls, making it hard to hear human voices but easy to imagine flames leaping out of control.
We came here because we had to block [Minister of Migration and Asylum] Mitirachi’s plan. The reporter asks, For Moria? A man interrupts. This isn’t Moria, he says looking toward the smoldering refugee detention center. That is Moria, he states, pointing in the opposite direction toward the thousand-person village of Moria, whose name has become synonymous with the notorious camp. In a bid to strip away these associations and any connection to that place, the man corrects the journalist, repeating the camp’s official name: That’s the KYT (Sto Nisi 2020b).
Throughout the livestream, a vicious, openly racist backchannel counter-commentary, filled with weeping emoticons, rages on the chat, reflecting many islanders’ rejection of the government plans to build a new closed camp (Figure 1). This move would literally cement the presence of refugees on the island, further entrenching the European Union policy of maintaining “hot spot” detainment facilities on its own/European territory beyond those already funded in North Africa and the Middle East: “Throw them in the sea”; “Where is the army?”; “The ancient olive trees are burning . . . what a shame”; “They should leave and go somewhere else!!! They burn everything and don’t respect anything!!!!”; “My little island.”