COVID-19 outbreaks in Greek refugee camps
NGOs raise concerns about the dramatic sanitation condition in overcrowded migrants camps on five Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Currently more than 34,875 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers stay in camps on islands of Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesvos, and Samos.According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), around 36 per cent of residents are minors. Facing the lack of basic hygienic facilities residents cannot maintain social distancing, follow the guidelines and advices issued by health authorities to protect from COVID-19 and prevent themselves from the contagion. Already there have been three cases of lockdown of refugee and migrant facilities. Two migrant camps, in Malakasa and Ritsona, and a migrant hostel managed by IOM in the town of Kranidi were put under quarantine, as some residents were tested positive for the virus.
Although no case has been reported at the reception centre in Moria, Europe's biggest camp for displaced people,the UNHCR is cooperating with the Hellenic National Public Health Organization (EODY) and other medical actors to establish medical units and spaces for screening and quarantine in the vicinity of the reception centre in Moria.On April 24th, the UNHCR, moved 122 elderly and immune-suppressed asylum seekers out of Moria to rented hotels on Lesvos island.
Transfers to the mainland
In aim to prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus inside camps, the Greek Government in cooperation with the European Commission announced the plan to transfer most vulnerable residents, such as people with health problems, disabilities, women and children, to empty hotels and other camps in the mainland. The Government planned to transfer 1,500 migrants from the islands on Saturday 25th April 2020 but this was postponed. The relocation decision evoked also demonstrations in and around the Moria camp. As Infomigrants present, desperate over the conditions and the slow processing, the protesters demanded transportation to the Greek mainland and said that they are risking their lives due to the spread of the virus.
During the month of April a few fires have torn through migrant camps on the Greek island of Samos and in the migrant camp on Chios. As the Greek migration ministry secretary Manos Logothetis said, the fire in the Vial refugee camp on Chios island destroyed the facilities of the European asylum service, a canteen, warehouse tents and many housing containers. The fire erupted after a 47-year-old asylum seeker from Iraq died in the camp. A women was hospitalised with a fever to the hospital but was tested negative for coronavirus.
Two fires in Samos broke out on 26 and 27th April, and according to the officials, were caused by the conflict among migrants. The camp is massively overcrowded, with nearly 7,000 people in a facility built to handle fewer than 650. Because of the fire, over 200 migrants and refugees have been left homeless.
Relocation of unaccompanied minors
More than 5,000 unaccompanied minors currently live in the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands. Around 10% of them are under 14-years-old, according to police agency Europol. On March 13 the European Commission stated that the group of Member States have agreed to evacuate 1,600 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Ten European countries have offered to host more than 900 children. Germany and Luxembourg, France, Portugal, Ireland, Finland, Croatia, Lithuania, Belgium and Bulgaria also said they were prepared to take in children from the Greek camps.
Only 59 unaccompanied underage refugees, out of 1,600 declared, have been recently transferred to two EU member states. The first relocations to Luxembourg took place 15th April. 12 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, one girl and 11 boys, two of them Syrian and ten Afghans aged 11 to 15, have been living in overcrowded reception and identification centres for several months on the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios. Germany welcomed a group of 47 children on April 18. According to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) the majority of the relocated minors with an average age of 13 come from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea. There were 4 girls in the group. All the unaccompanied minors undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Lithuania has offered to host two minors but as the spokeswoman for the Lithuanian Interior Ministry stated on April 15, the country has postponed the transfer till the end of coronavirus quarantine.
As further relocations of minors seems to be frozen because of the Covid pandemic, thousands of children remain to be trapped in overcrowded, unsanitary and deplorable conditions. Ten European cities call for immediate solidarity action and offered a home to vulnerable children.
The European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC)addressed a letter to the European States and Institutions urging for the immediate evacuation of migrant children from the refugee camps on the Greek islands.
ANTIGONE - Information and Documentation Center on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non-Violence
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs
Coronavirus hits migrant hostel as Greece plans to ease lock down, [21.04.2020].
Temporary Number of Insurance and Healthcare for Foreigners (PAAYPA/ΠΑΑΥΠΑ), [02.04.2020].
EU asks Greece to move migrants most at risk from coronavirus out of crowded camps, [24.03.2020].
ENOC urges for the immediate evacuation of migrant children from the refugee camps on the Greek islands and to massively relocate them,
OXFAM & GCR briefing for Lesvos amidst the coronavirus, https://www.gcr.gr/en/news/press-releases-announcements/item/1420-oxfam-gcr-briefing-for-lesvos-amidst-the-coronavirus
Germany's evacuation of underage refugees from Greece seen as insufficient: aid groups, [18.04.2020].