Living conditions in the Moria refugee camp are abysmal | Photo: DW/A. Carassava
Living conditions in the Moria refugee camp are abysmal | Photo: DW/A. Carassava

The EU Commission stated on Tuesday that it was working with the Greek authorities on an emergency plan to prepare for a potential outbreak of coronavirus in the overfilled migrant camps on the Greek islands.

Following video conferences in Brussels on Tuesday, March 24, the EU Commission said that it would be working closely with the Greek authorities to make sure an emergency plan was in place to stem any potential outbreak of Covid-19 in the overcrowded migrant camps on the Greek islands.

According to an online report from The Globe Post, EU Commission spokesperson Adalbert Jahnz told journalists that Greece was already "taking temperatures of every newly arrived migrant, stopping any visits and observing hygiene rules to try to prevent an outbreak."

The EU has also promised to contribute funding to increase medical help in the camps and to accelerate the transfers of migrants and asylum seekers from the islands to the Greek mainland, according to the news agency EPD.

Move the most vulnerable migrants out of camps

The European Union has asked Greece to move the most vulnerable migrants, who could be at risk of contracting Covid-19 out of the camps. The EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told Reuters on Tuesday that Greece had so far "opposed moving the migrants to the Greek mainland, citing the absence of coronavirus cases in the camps while the disease was spreading elsewhere in Greece."

The EU itself has already paused the transfer of the 1,600 unaccompanied children from Greece to at least seven countries in the EU because of the coronavirus.

'Reduce the risk'

Johansson told Reuters that the EU was hoping to "reduce the risk as much as possible in the overcrowded hotspots on the islands." Most of the camps were built to house a few thousand people but there are currently around 42,000 people on the islands in both formal and informal camps.

Various human rights and religious organizations have warned against doing nothing. "When the virus takes hold there, and infects people who may have chronic diseases and little access to medical help, we can expect many deaths," said Ulrich Lilie, president of Diakonie, the social welfare organization for Germany's Protestant churches.

"In these camps, there is not even access to the most basic hygiene standards which could protect people," Lilie told EPD.

'Evacuate the camps'

Both Doctors without Borders (MSF) and the private rescue organization Sea Watch have called for the EU and Greece to evacuate the camps with immediate effect.

According to Reuters, the situation has become "even more tense since Greece last week imposed restrictions on the movement of people living in the camps to combat the spread of the coronavirus."

The non-profit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated on Tuesday that "forcing asylum seekers to remain in conditions that violate their rights and are harmful to their well-being, health and dignity cannot be justified on grounds of public health." In the event of an outbreak, a quarantine "would almost certainly lead to preventable deaths," HRW said. 

Fottini Kokkinaki of the Greek civil society foundation HumanRights360 said that the consequences of the virus hitting those overcrowded camps would be "devastating". In a press release she explained that since the public health system in Greece was already under enormous strain due to the economic crisis, a pandemic spreading across the country would be a "nightmare within a nightmare." Kokkinaki said that the authorities "must act now before it is too late."

So far there have been no cases of Covid-19 confirmed among migrants in the camp on Lesbos, although two Greek residents on the island have tested positive. According to Euronews on March 24, the country has so far registered 695 infections and 17 deaths.


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