Migrants at Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa
Migrants at Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

Cruises across Europe have been suspended because of the coronavirus emergency. Migrant sea rescue organization Sea-Watch wants the empty cruise ships to be used to evacuate migrants from the Greek islands.

The EU Commission should use cruise ships to evacuate migrants and refugees from the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands, Sea-Watch said in a statement published on Monday. According to the organization, leading operators have suspended their cruises until at least April, leaving their ships empty.

Sea-Watch argued that these ships are ideally suited to evacuate and quarantine the migrants because they "offer sufficient space for several thousand people and have comparatively well-equipped medical stations."

"Necessary quarantine and protection measures against Corona must be implemented everywhere to prevent exponential spread, including in refugee camps. This means immediate evacuation of the overcrowded Greek camps and accommodation in places where people are protected from the virus. The cruise ships can do both," Sea-Watch Medic Aline Wedel said in the statement.

Local medical infrastructure overwhelmed

Sea-Watch said that the local medical infrastructure would be incapable of dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak in the camps on the Greek islands, given that it is already barely sufficient to provide for the local population. This, they said, made it necessary to evacuate the camps. (Covid-19 is the illness that is caused by an infection with the new coronavirus.)

"Anyone who fails to ensure that people are evacuated now will be complicit in the possible death of hundreds," Johannes Bayer, Chairman of Sea-Watch, said.

Camps on lockdown to prevent outbreak

Sea-Watch is not the first organization to call for an evacuation of the island camps amid the coronavirus emergency. On March 12, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) released a statement, saying that the evacuation of "squalid Greek camps [was now] more urgent than ever."

Last week, an MSF spokesperson called the camps "an ideal breeding ground for a rapid spread of the virus."

While there are no known Covid-19 cases in any of the refugee camps in Greece yet, the country has registered hundreds of cases, including at least one on the island of Lesbos.

To prevent an outbreak in the camps, Greece issued a number of restrictions last week, essentially putting the island camps on a partial lockdown. But many experts believe that these measures are insufficient to protect the camps' residents from a potential outbreak. It's close to impossible for the residents to undertake two of the key measures to prevent the spread of the virus. They can't frequently and thoroughly wash their hands because there are too few places that offer running water. And they can't practice social distancing because the camps are very crowded.

Relocation suspended because of coronavirus

There are tens of thousands of migrants and refugees living in overcrowded camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. The biggest camp, Moria on the island of Lesbos, hosts over 20,000 migrants and refugees. It was built to accommodate no more than 3,000 people.

A number of EU states had recently agreed to take in 1,600 vulnerable migrants and refugees, in particular children. But these plans have been suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.

You can read the full statement from Sea-Watch here.


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