A number of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, have urged the Greek government to be transparent about the details of the risks of lead poisoning at a migrant camp on Lesbos. They also urged for migrants to be evacuated as a precautionary measure.
The Greek ministry of migration and asylum had announced on Saturday that an investigation would be launched with the help of experts from the European Union to analyse soil samples at Mavrovounio camp on Lesbos, where migrants have been temporarily accommodated since the devastating fire at the Moria camp in September 2020.
The ministry said it had taken the decision to start the probe after one of a dozen soil samples from Mavrovounio had showed that one part of the camp, which is currently not inhabited, had "a concentration of lead higher than international norms."
Rights groups imply deliberate cover-up
However, the NGO Human Rights Watch accused the Greek government of dragging its heels to determine the extent of the risk for thousands of migrants at the camp following weeks of international pressure, alleging further that Greece was being deliberately intransparent about the affair.
"The Greek government knowingly built a migrant camp on a firing range and then turned a blind eye to the potential health risks for residents and workers there," Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the AFP news agency:
"After weeks of prodding, it took soil samples to test for lead contamination while denying that a risk of lead exposure existed. It did not make the results public for over seven weeks, and has yet to allow independent experts to analyze them or vow to take the necessary steps to protect residents and workers and inform them about the potential health risks."
Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch Eva Cossé meanwhile said earlier that migrants and refugees at the camp might be exposed to additional dangers due to ongoing construction work at the site.
Apart from HRW, ActionAid-Greece, HumanRights360, Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) and the Greek Refugee Council endorsed the appeal for greater transparency and quicker action in addition to a series of other activist groups. More than 20 groups in total all called for the immediate evacuation of the camp as a first remedial step.
Greek ministry reaction
The Greek ministry of migration and asylum meanwhile stated that sufficient steps had been taken to ensure the safety of the camp since it was erected in September after the fire at the overcrowded Moria camp.
The ministry specifically said that the former firing range accounted for only 21,000 square meters of the camp's total 341,000 square meters - roughly one sixteenth of the total area.