Migrants who fled the Moria camp blaze one week ago are still living on the streets in grim conditions, with no proper shelter or sanitation, fuelling fears of a future surge in coronavirus cases.
Hundreds of people are waiting in line, standing close to one another, and less than one in five are wearing a face mask -- despite the current coronavirus pandemic. It's about 4 pm in Lesbos and a group of charities is about to begin distributing food for some of the 13,000 migrants left homeless by the Moria blaze. As stranded migrants focus on the basics -- food, water, shelter -- the risk of a large coronavirus outbreak has been largely overlooked.
"We are like inside an overcrowded chicken farm. We are lumped together during food distribution, it's impossible to have one meter of distance between us," Jessica, a Cameroonian woman, told InfoMigrants. In her group of fellow Cameroonians, Senegalese and Malians, no one is wearing a face mask.
"Most refugees are not afraid of corona, but we know that we have to be careful (...) If one person here has corona, then everyone will be infected. They would have to destroy the camp again", says Abolfazl, a 13-year-old Afghan boy wearing a mask. Abolfazl referred to the blaze that razed the Moria refugee camp to the ground on September 9. Nearly one week after the fires, Greek authorities on September 15 said that five migrants had been detained for deliberately lighting fires to protest a quarantine order after several cases of COVID-19 infections were reported. Some migrants have disputed that, blaming far-right locals for the blaze.
Concerns over a coronavirus outbreak have made the resettlement of the Moria migrants even more pressing. The whereabouts of most of the 35 migrants who had tested positive for the virus before the blaze remain unknown. At least 21 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since Sunday, as they entered the new tent camp erected at Kara Tepe. Greece's migration ministry said that all people entering the temporary site would be submitted to a coronavirus test.
Anti-Covid efforts hampered by distrust
The government's efforts to limit a potential outbreak are hampered by the migrants' deep mistrust. Some believe that being tested positive for COVID-19 would reduce their chance of getting asylum. "Coronavirus has nothing do with their asylum request (...) People with coronavirus are being quarantined but their applications will not be affected by this," Eli Thanou, a lawyer with the Greek council for refugees told InfoMigrants.
The main fear expressed by migrants is to be locked down like in the former Moria camp. Despite sleeping rough for a week, thousands continue to refuse to enter the new tent settlement for fear they would not be able to leave again.Even migrants who have followed a coronavirus awareness training prefer to stay away from the new camp. They can be spotted with their blue t-shirts with a message reading "Wash your hands" in English, French, Farsi, and Arabic languages.
"We learnt how to protect people from coronavirus, how to wash hands, what are the symptoms, how to wear and remove a mask (...) People were really concerned about that disease before the blaze", said Dadi Mukendi, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Paying attention to these strict sanitary rules is much harder now that he and his group of fellow Congoleses sleep on the street. One of them shows a box of 50 face masks but complain that it's impossible to respect social distancing, especially during food distribution.A small field clinic of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been set up alongside the stretch of road where migrants are camped out. They refer people with clear symptoms of COVID-19 to the hospital and call an ambulance to take them there. It happened only once since the blaze, Faris al-Jawad, MSF's field communication officer, told InfoMigrants on September 14.
"The patients have to be presenting more than just a cough, because everybody here has a cough. They have to have other symptoms like fever", adds Faris al-Jawad.
"Right now though the emergency from MSF's point of view is getting people to a safe place that is not the street," al-Jawad said.