Public health workers check migrants arriving at a new refugee and migrant camp in Greece's Serres region | Photo: N. Economou/picture-alliance
Public health workers check migrants arriving at a new refugee and migrant camp in Greece's Serres region | Photo: N. Economou/picture-alliance

As the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, calls are growing for more to be done for vulnerable migrants and refugees. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions and open letters demanding the urgent evacuation of migrant camps on the Greek islands.

The protestant church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche Deutschland, EKD) this week added its voice to the organizations calling for children in the Greek Aegean hotspots to be moved to safety before the virus spreads to the overcrowded migrant camps. “Those seeking protection in the refugee camps face a catastrophe as soon as Covid-19 breaks out there,” said Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the chair of the EKD Council.

At the beginning of March, Germany and other European countries said they planned to evacuate at least 1,500 children from the Aegean islands, where there are currently more than 42,000 migrants and refugees living in and around camps intended to accommodate just 7,000. Martin Dutzmann, the EKD representative to Germany and the EU, said Europe needed to act “quickly, flexibly and humanely,” to enable families to leave the camps.

Response plan needed

In Greece, 21 human rights and humanitarian organizations have called on the government to act to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 and prepare a response plan to be enacted immediately once the first case in a reception center is detected. "In the event of an outbreak, a quarantine that would trap tens of thousands of healthy people together with people infected by COVID-19 in the overcrowded camps … would almost certainly lead to preventable deaths of numerous people," the organizations said.

Antigone Lyberaki, general manager of SolidarityNow, one of the signatories, said “There is a window of opportunity to address this issue while the situation is still manageable, but we fear this window may be closing fast.”

'Leave no one behind'

Meanwhile an online petition addressed to the European Commission and EU governments called #LeaveNoOneBehind had collected more than 208,000 signatures on Wednesday.

“To meet this Coronavirus crisis, we need solidarity,” the petition declares. “For Europe to confront this pandemic in unity, overcrowded refugee camps must be evacuated quickly,” it continues. It also calls for necessary quarantine and protective measures against coronavirus to be implemented in refugee camps, which have no facilities for hand washing or hygiene.
'Catastrophic' conditions

Amnesty International has also launched an appeal to evacuate the Greek migrant camps and is calling on supporters to email the German Chancellor demanding that she and other European states take the migrants in. With a video message on Twitter, the organization’s spokesperson on asylum, Franziska Vilmar, warns that medical care in the camps is inadequate and conditions “catastrophic”.
Another petition on the site care2.com similarly urges the European Union to protect refugees during the Covid-19 crisis. The petition, which has attracted over 7,800 supporters, calls on European governments to provide aid to migrants living in cramped and unsanitary conditions. It points out that many NGOs helping refugees have had to stop or curtail their operations.

'Displaced people will have their lifelines cut off'

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which operates worldwide, has highlighted Covid-19 restrictions on movement as a significant threat to the delivery of humanitarian aid to displaced people and refugees. “If aid workers aren’t allowed to scale-up urgent services because of lockdowns or stay-at-home orders, vital supplies will run out and displaced people will have their lifelines cut off,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the NRC. 

"We are asking governments to allow us to stay and deliver so that we can assist and protect the most vulnerable before it's too late," Egeland said. The NRC has launched a fundraiser on Facebook.

 

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