On April 5, the Malakasa camp near Athens was placed in "full sanitary isolation" for 14 days, after a migrant tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Greek authorities and the UN migration agency are providing the camp’s residents with both food and hygiene products. But residents told us: "We feel like we’ve been completely abandoned."
For the next 14 days, no one is allowed to enter or leave Greece’s Malakasa migrant camp. Located on a vast military field, 38 kilometers northeast of Athens, the camp has been placed in “full sanitary isolation” after an Afghan migrant living there tested positive for COVID-19, Greece’s ministry of migration announced earlier this week.
The 53-year-old man, who was already suffering from another illness, visited the camp clinic after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The man was then taken to a hospital in Athens where he tested positive for the coronavirus. The ministry said that his family had been placed in quarantine, and that officials were screening the camp to get a full overview of the gravity of the situation.
Christine Nikilaidou, a spokewoman for the UN migration agency (IOM), told InfoMigrants that all camp residents were currently being tested. She could not specify exactly how many tests had been carried out so far, but she said that the people who had been in contact with the ill Afghan had been given priority.
‘Feel completely abandoned’
The vast majority of the 1,611 people living in the Malakasa camp are from Afghanistan. Under normal circumstances, the gravel paths that run through the camp are full of children playing with each other. But after the lockdown went into force, the camp feels totally deserted. For days, rain has been pouring down non-stop, and the IOM has told all camp residents to stay inside.
Although residents live in fitted shipping containers that contain both running water and electricity, the space inside them is cramped and the walls are often stained with mold from the humidity.
Souad* lives with her husband and three children in one of the containers. On Sunday, she abruptly woke to the sound of loudspeakers. “I went to the window and saw police cars driving through the camp and a voice announcing that we had been placed in lockdown and wouldn’t be allowed to go out anymore,” she told InfoMigrants.
Souad, who comes from a Middle Eastern country she did not want to identify, said that aside from that, the camp’s residents have not received much information about the situation. "We are completely isolated and no one has told us what we should do, we feel like we’ve been completely abandoned. My husband has health problems related to high blood pressure and diabetes, and we don't have enough medication," she said.
Food distribution and hygiene kits
Prior to the lockdown, camp residents would either do their grocery shopping in Malakasa village, or in Athens. But after the camp went into lockdown and all outings were banned, IOM and Greek authorities are in charge of providing the camp’s residents with both food and hygiene products.
"These distributions will start in a few days. The kits are ready but we are waiting to receive the results of the tests that we’ve already carried out. We know that for the moment, everyone has provisions, and no one is running out of food," Nikilaidou said.
Souad confirmed that her family has enough food to last them for at least another few days, but said their biggest concern is the lack of access to medication and protective gear, such as gloves and masks. "They don't let us out and they don't provide us with what we need to protect ourselves from COVID-19. All they did was give each family a bottle that contained a cleaning liquid, that's all I have with my husband and my three children to deal with the virus," she said.
Malakasa is the second migrant camp in Greece to have been placed in full lockdown due to the coronavirus. Last Thursday, an outbreak was detected in the Ritsona camp, 80 kilometers north of Athens, where 23 people have tested positive so far.
Like many other European countries, Greece went into lockdown on March 23. On Saturday, April 4, the government announced the lockdown would be extended for another three weeks, until April 27.
*This is not the person’s real name