Karatepe camp on Lesbos island, Greece, 29 March 2021 | Photo: EPA/V. Papantonis
Karatepe camp on Lesbos island, Greece, 29 March 2021 | Photo: EPA/V. Papantonis

Human Rights Watch has warned that migrants living in an area of a camp in Lesbos contaminated with lead are at serious risk. It says that children and pregnant women could develop lead poisoning if the government fails to act.

Migrants at a camp in Lesbos remain at risk of lead contamination, the international nongovernment organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on April 1.

"Dozens of families are still accommodated in areas of a migrant camp in Lesbos where soil testing showed elevated lead levels two months after the Greek government confirmed that the areas were contaminated," it said.

The statement said authorities have yet to conduct comprehensive soil testing inside the camp in the highest-risk areas to assess the extent of contamination.

'Greek government has known risks since December 2020'

"The Greek government has known the risks since at least December 2020, when test results confirmed lead contamination in parts of the Mavrovouni camp, which houses nearly 6,500 migrants and asylum seekers," HRW said.

It added that the government was specifically warned by media and civil society organizations shortly after the camp was opened in September because it was built on top of a small arms firing range that had been in use until the camp was opened.

"Based on the results of testing by the Greek government's own experts, it is clear that young children and pregnant women are at serious risk when living on and playing in soil and dust contaminated by lead," said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The Greek authorities' failure to protect camp residents when tests show elevated lead levels amounts to serious negligence," she added.

'Risk increases for children and pregnant women'

In meetings in January and February 2021, both the migration and asylum minister, Notis Mitarakis, and European Commission officials told Human Rights Watch that authorities had removed all the tents from areas at risk of lead contamination.

However as of March, through satellite imagery analysis and interviews with migrants living in the camp, HRW confirmed that authorities had not relocated about 90 residential tents, five reception structures, and nine administrative structures in close proximity to contaminated areas at the base of Mavrovouni hill.

The organization is calling on Greek authorities to "inform all camp residents and staff in languages they understand about the risks of lead poisoning and ongoing testing and mitigation measures" and "clarify when new soil testing will take place."

"If the Greek government fails to take swift action, the risk that young children and pregnant women will develop lead poisoning and potentially severe health problems goes up by the day, and the government will bear responsibility for that harm," Wille said.

"The risk already is mounting with every delay in constructing a new camp on Lesbos that will allow people to leave the contaminated area."


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