Child refugees detained in reception facilities on the island of Lesbos where the COVID-19 lockdown continues | Photo: EPA/Stratis Balaskas
Child refugees detained in reception facilities on the island of Lesbos where the COVID-19 lockdown continues | Photo: EPA/Stratis Balaskas

Asylum seekers and migrants in reception centers on the Greek islands continue to be under lockdown although no COVID-19 cases have been registered at the camps. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says this is discriminatory, given that anti-coronavirus measures have been eased in the rest of Greece.

The extended lockdown at the camps for refugees and migrants on the Greek islands has "proven to be toxic for the thousands of people contained there," Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement issued on July 16.

Even though there have been zero cases of coronavirus infections in any of the reception centers on the Greek islands, and life has returned to normal for local people and tourists alike, a lockdown for asylum seekers and migrants continues, MSF said. This, the organization argued, was "discriminatory" and had a detrimental effect on the physical and mental health of the migrants and refugees at the camps.

"COVID-19 should not be used as a tool to detain migrants and refugees," MSF said in their statement.

The organization called on the Greek government to end the restrictions on the movement of people in reception facilities. They also demanded the evacuation of people from the overcrowded centers to safe accommodation.

30,000 migrants and refugees in centers

MSF noted that, when COVID-19 reached Greece, over 30,000 asylum seekers and migrants were living in overcrowded reception facilities on the islands, such as Moria and Vathy, without regular access to healthcare or basic services.

"In March 2020, a restriction of movement imposed by the central government in response to COVID-19 has meant that these people, 55% of whom are women and children, have essentially been forced to remain in these overcrowded and unhygienic centers with no possibility to escape the dangerous conditions which are part of their daily life,'' the statement said.

'Appalling conditions'

Marco Sandrone, MSF coordinator for Lesbos, said that he had been witness to appalling living conditions in the Moria camp. He said that many MSF patients had been victims of horrendous traumas in their home countries and are now being subjected to another type of trauma in Moria, which he said many called their "worst nightmare" as they are living in virtual cages, trapped by fences.

"In the current phase of the COVID-19 epidemic in Greece, this measure [= the continuation of the lockdown] is absolutely unjustified from a public health point of view -- it is discriminatory towards people that don't represent a risk and contributes to their stigmatization, while putting them further at risk," MSF said.


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