Despite recent transfers of migrants to the Greek mainland, some 19,000 people are still living in and around the Moria camp on Lesbos. InfoMigrants spoke to Rosa Duran from Dutch NGO Movement on the Ground to find out more about the actual situation for aid workers, migrants and refugees.
InfoMigrants: What steps are being taken in and around the migrant and refugee camps on Lesbos to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus?
Rosa Duran: Social distancing is obviously a very difficult (step) to tackle; one might even say impossible. There are still around 19,000 people in and around the Moria camp, living in very close proximity. They share the facilities and services and this makes physical contact or being close to each other inevitable.
Different organizations are running awareness campaigns. We, as in volunteers from Movement on the Ground, are making sure that our team of community volunteers is trained by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
We also conduct a very efficient waste management program. The whole area that we manage east of Moria gets cleaned every day. The toilets are cleaned throughout the week. Other organizations are active in other areas and camps and they too have similar programs. It's the same for inside Moria as well.
Overall, everyone is doing his or her best to improve hygiene standards.How are operations such as food distribution, schooling and extra curricular activities affected and how have NGO like yours improvised to deal with the situation?
We are operational in the Olive Grove area which is located east of Moria. Considering the situation, we have increased and improved our programs. We just finished construction and development work in Zone 8, which means that Zone 6, 8 and 9 are now all complete. This ensures comfortable and dignified living area for more people. It directly helps in precautionary measures with respect to COVID-19.
The whole area is cleaned every day by 60 community volunteers. With the support of partners, we have also ordered extra garbage trucks and installed the necessary infrastructure to keep the site clean.
We have added two more food distribution points, one in Zone 8 and the other one in Zone 9. In total, we now distribute food to over 2,500 people from three different distribution points. We don’t have food distribution on a person to person or family to family basis. One person of the tent brings the food card and is given packs for all the people living in the that particular tent. This helps in maintaining order.
Movement on the Ground is also providing services in Kara Tepe camp on Lesbos. It is the month of Ramadan now, so we are helping our sister organization Because We Carry with distributions food items.
Our NGO is continuing with projects such as painting and certain communal spaces are open and functional. We are only running programs in which social distancing can be maintained. However, we had to suspend two of our programs; namely sports and computer training. Hopefully with the restrictions being relaxed now, we will slowly restart these two programs.
Are the aid workers and volunteers concerned about the situation and if so, how are they dealing with it?
The aid workers are conscious and aware of the situation. We we keep ourselves informed and are definitely concerned about the possible consequences if COVID-19 spreads in the camps. But for ourselves, we are not afraid. We do not believe in fear. We believe fear in a place like Moria is potentially even more harmful than the virus. The situation it's already quite tense and if we bring in fear and anxiety then that's not really going to help anyone.
We have concentrated on dignifying the conditions and empowering the community to run certain programs by themselves, in case we get instructions from the authorities that it isn’t safe for us to be here anymore. In case, some of our team members get sick and have the virus, we will need to pull out temporarily.
Can you say that aid workers, especially the medical workers are prepared to deal with a possible outbreak or the novel coronavirus in the island camps?I know that several actors are collaboratively building a triage. MSF is involved in it as well. The French aid organization is also building an isolation space.
There's definitely a lot in progress to deal with the possible outbreak of the coronavirus in the camps.
How is all of this affecting the migrants and refugees psychologically?
There are obvious psychological challenges by being stuck. There is no way of shutting down Moria and the area surrounding it, but the authorities have blocked the street. Police is present on the main road and they are preventing people from visiting the surrounding villages in Mytilini. People are somewhat frustrated with these added restrictions of movement.
But they still have a distraction in this element of ownership over their own environment which has definitely shown a very positive psychological impact. You can see it in people's eyes, their behavior and in their motivation towards the work that they're doing within their camps. In that way, we are definitely contributing by engaging them.
The migrants, refugees and the aid workers in and around Moria are all used to crisis. So, we all understand the situation we are in, we are aware of the possible scenarios, but end of the day, this is just another crisis for all of us. And we are dealing with it well, until now, at least as long as the virus is not here.