Greece has extended a coronavirus lockdown on its migrant camps for the fifth time. The move has prompted accusations that the government is using the pandemic to limit the migrants' movement.
The Greek Migration Ministry announced on Saturday that the country's migrant camps would remain under lockdown until at least July 19. The restrictions began over 100 days ago, on March 21.
"By a joint decision of the Ministers of Civil Protection, Health and Immigration and Asylum, the measures to restrict the movement of residents in the Reception and Identification Centers are extended until July 19, 2020, in order to prevent the occurrence and spread of COVID19 cases," the statement from the Migration Ministry said.
Residents are allowed to leave the camps between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. only in groups of fewer than 10 people. No more than 150 people per hour may leave the camp.
Greece has recorded 3,519 cases of coronavirus, the National Public Health Organization said on Sunday. 192 people have died from coronavirus in Greece – there have been no COVID-related deaths in the migrant camps, according to the news agency AFP.
Some migrants are frustrated and confused by the lockdown, AFP reports. "I really don’t have an idea why they are doing this. I feel so bad, so down because of it," said Hamoudi, an asylum seeker living in the Vial camp on Chios Island. "Maybe they just want to make it a closed camp. But closed for what?," he said. The 24-year-old from Somalia told AFP he saw no social distancing in the camp and could not think of any health benefits of the lockdown for migrants.
The lockdown has prevented aid groups from making their usual deliveries of clothing, nappies and other necessities, according to AFP.
"We can't get adequate aid to people. They are messaging us from inside the camp," said Ruhi Akhtar, a volunteer on Chios. A resident of the Vial migrant camp, 16-year-old Parwana Ansari, said people had to leave the camp to go shopping in town because the food in the camp was not good.
•••• ➤Also read: Pro-migrant protests in Athens as Greece extends lockdown
Lockdown motive questioned
The fifth extension of the camp lockdown has again led to accusations that the move is not based on public health concerns. Marco
Sandrone, from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said there were no cases of
coronavirus in the camps. MSF has said the government is using the pandemic as a "pretext" to extend the migrant camp lockdowns.
Some non-governmental organizations have suggested that the lockdown extension is related to Greece's tourist season, AFP reports. "They try to make the refugees as invisible as possible and think that then the tourists would love to come," said Jenny Kalipozi, a local resident on Chios who regularly delivered aid to the Vial migrant camp.
Migrant arrivals down
The Greek migration minister, Notis Mitarakis, announced at the weekend that migrant arrivals in Greece have dropped by 51% since the start of the year and 93% in the last three months, according to the news agency ANA-MPA.
In an article in Eleftheros Typos newspaper, he said 17,000 asylum seekers and refugees had been transferred to facilities on the mainland as part of the government plan to reduce overcrowding on the islands.
"The decongestion of the islands is now visible," he said. The new closed facilities on the islands of Kos, Leros and Samos will open this year, Mitarakis added.
First July arrivals in quarantine
On Sunday a boat with 27 migrants, including 11 children, arrived at Thermi on Lesbos Island, ANA-MPA reported. It was the first group of migrants to arrive on the island in July, the agency said. The migrants were taken to a COVID-19 quarantine facility at Kara Tepe.