Tents set up by the Greek migration ministry to quarantine migrants on Lesbos | Photo: EPA/Stratis Balaskas
Tents set up by the Greek migration ministry to quarantine migrants on Lesbos | Photo: EPA/Stratis Balaskas

The Greek government recently extended lockdown measures at crowded migrant camps on some of the country's islands in the Aegean Sea. NGOs like Doctors Without Borders have heavily criticized that decision. Meanwhile, a new government regulation will require thousands of refugees to move out of state housing.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders has criticized the decision by Greece's government to extend the quarantine period at overcrowded migrant camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos to June 21. This means the lockdown there will last almost three months. Meanwhile, anti-coronavirus measures are being relaxed at several camps on the mainland.

Lockdown extension 'unjustifiable'

Lisa Papadimitriou, the head of staff at Doctors Without Borders on Lesbos, said: "The extension to restrict the movement of asylum seekers living in these island reception centers until June 21 is unjustifiable and will further reduce their already limited access to basic services and medical care and, at the current stage of the COVID-19 epidemic, is not justified in any way in terms of public health."

She added that "so far there is no confirmed incident at any of the reception centers on the islands, which means that these populations are not a danger."

The lockdown of the island camps began earlier and will now continue for longer than the quarantine for the general population in Greece. 

Many NGOs and human rights groups have expressed concern over the Greek government's policies concerning migrants during the pandemic. Some have claimed that the government is taking advantage of the situation to continue its so-called policy of "containment" regarding refugees and migrants. They say the government's actions go against scientific protocols and are contrary to the recommendations of the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the protection of refugees and migrants.

Thousands of refugees to be evicted

Meanwhile, the government's bid to move thousands of refugees out of state facilities and subsidized accommodation to make room for new asylum seekers is suffering delays as many migrants are refusing to move out.

Under a new law, refugees who have secured asylum now have a grace period of just one month to leave state accommodation. Until March, the grace period had been six months.

Under this regulation, up to 9,000 migrants must leave the state reception system by the end of June. Of that total, approximately 4,000 are living in EU-funded apartments, while the rest are staying in subsidized hotels or camps.

A further 11,000 are supposed to leave in the coming months.

Could many end up homeless?

However, NGOs say refugees and migrants living in apartments funded by the EU-supported ESTIA scheme are refusing to leave because they have nowhere else to go. The UN refugee agency UNHCR, which runs ESTIA, has asked the Greek Migration Ministry to provide these migrants with a "safety net" to make the transition.

A leading humanitarian and anti-racism organisation in Greece, KEERFA, has criticized the government's plan, and recently there were protests against the evictions in the center of Athens.

KEERFA, which stands for the Movement United Against Facism and the Racist Threat, said that many migrants could be left homeless.

This came after Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis announced that 60 of the current 93 hospitality facilities that were created in hotels on the mainland for asylum seekers will be closed in 2020, starting on June 1.

Residents will be transferred to other facilities or be included in ESTIA integration program.

It remains to be seen if Mitarakis can help speed up transfers from the island camps. Despite a recent dip in the number of arrivals, there are still close to 120,000 asylum seekers in Greece, according to the latest UNHCR data. 39,700 of them live on the islands and 80,300 are on the mainland in various locations stretching from Athens to the northern land border at Evros.

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