A man wearing a protective uniform walks at the refugee and asylum seekers camp in Ritsona, about 80 kilometers north of Athens, Greece | Photo: EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS
A man wearing a protective uniform walks at the refugee and asylum seekers camp in Ritsona, about 80 kilometers north of Athens, Greece | Photo: EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

Tensions and protests among migrants at Greece's Malakasa migrant camp on the outskirts of Athens occurred after officials reported the first death of a migrant in the country due to COVID-19.

Groups of migrants staying at Greece's Malakasa migrant camp facility blocked one side of the national highway leading to central Greece on Sunday afternoon after it was reported that a 61-year-old Afghan father of two had died in hospital after contracting COVID-19.

The camp is in the outskirts of Athens.

Despite being on lockdown since September 7, the overcrowded facility has made life difficult for the refugees and migrants staying there to maintain social distancing and follow recommended health protocols.

The 61-year-old man was being treated at the Evangelismos hospital in central Athens.

'Severe overcrowding'

According to the latest figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Malakasa facility, which has a capacity for 1,589 people, has been operating at 132.4% of that capacity.

In recent months, another 1,036 undocumented migrants have been added to the 1,068 registered people staying there.

The new arrivals are mostly made up of people who have come from the North East Aegean islands and with nowhere to stay have ended up sleeping rough on Victoria Square in Athens' city center, from where they were transferred by police to several facilities in the greater Attica area.

More camps placed under lockdown

In related developments, in the wake of an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths throughout Greece in recent weeks, migrant reception centers in Thiva, central Greece, and Serres in the north have been put under lockdown.

The latest lockdowns were announced on Saturday in a joint decision by the ministries of Migration, Citizens' Protection and Health, and are set to remain in place until October 9 when the situation will be re-evaluated.

Other migrant facilities already under lockdown are: Elaionas, Malakasa, Oinofyta, Ritsona, Schistos, Koutsohero and Fylakio - all of which are on the mainland. Camps on the islands of Samos and Leros are also under lockdown.

Meanwhile on Lesvos, the new, temporary 'tent city' camp at Kara Tepe, which was erected after the Moria camp was destroyed by fires earlier this month, is segregating migrants who have tested positive for COVID-19.

A total of 243 positive COVID-19 cases had been recorded at the new temporary facility by the end of last week.

The camp was hastily set up following a series of fires which ripped through and completely destroyed the overcrowded Moria camp.

Over 9,200 people have been transferred to the new facility and the process of examining their asylum applications is underway.

'Living conditions getting worse'

Meanwhile, there has been large-scale criticism of Greece's initiative in the creation of the new site at Moria, as well as the government's handling of the refugee issue relating to the spread of COVID-19.

Humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) have been the most scathing in the criticism. Christina Psarra, director general of MSF, said last week: "The creation of a new camp and a system that will trap people indefinitely exposes the persistence in the same mistakes that led to this catastrophe."

She added: "The immediate evacuation of people is the only way to avoid chaos and not be repeated. Living conditions did not meet public health protocols before, so now it's worse, and they do not allow for the prevention of the transmission of COVID-19. We are clear: there should not be another Moria, and nothing like it should be built on its ashes."


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