With the first coronavirus cases reported in Greek migrant camps, the European Union must act quickly to prevent a “migrant genocide” that threatens 42,000 people.
“With the first confirmation of a Covid-19 case on Lesbos … one of the main issues to be addressed to avoid the quick and wide spread of Covid-19 on the Greek islands is the urgent preventive evacuation of the overcrowded camps,” Spanish politician and MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, who also serves as the chairman of the EU’s civil liberties commission, said. “Many of those in the camps are already in a precarious health situation and despite the measures taken by the Greek authorities, the overcrowding and the dire living conditions make it difficult to contain Covid-19.”
Aguilar said that action needs to be taken before it “could become migrant genocide” in Greece.
A few days ago, two migrant camps in Greece hosting migrants from Syria have reported their first coronavirus cases, with 20 cases first reported in the Ritsona camp. It was the Greek government itself which previously described these camps as “epidemiology time bombs”, according to Magyar Nemzet.
The first case — that of a pregnant woman — was registered at the Ritsona camp north of Athens, who was immediately taken to hospital, but subsequent test showed that at least another 23 people are also carrying the virus. Soon thereafter, another case was confirmed at the Ritsona migrant camp, which lies 35 kilometers from Athens.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which operates the camps, expressed its concern about the situation in a recent press release.
“This development confirms the fact that this fast-moving virus does not discriminate and can affect both migrant and local communities,” said Gianluca Rocco, Chief of IOM’s Mission in Greece said about the Ritsona camp case. “Everyone is at risk. Migrants and refugees in Greece are susceptible to the virus as much as the Greek community.”
Aguilar has proposed that those at high risk, including people 60 and older with respiratory conditions, diabetes and other conditions, should be evacuated. In addition, EU member states should make resources available to migrants, including “increased cooperation amongst Member States’ healthcare systems.”
Augilar offers no ideas where the migrants should be evacuated to or where Greece, which is already struggling economically, should find the money to treat migrants in its already burdened healthcare system. Richer states, such as Germany, are already transporting French and Italian patients to hospitals inside Germany for treatment.
Greece — with a population of just under 11 million — has 1,735 confirmed coronavirus cases, but in addition to the 25,000 people in 30 camps across the country, it is estimated that another 40,000 migrants are scattered across several islands of the Aegean.
The IOM said that cleansers and soaps were distributed to all residents. All working spaces and common areas are being disinfected in the two camps, but sanitation is dire in most.
Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans frontières) said that the Moria migrant camp, designed for 1,500 people, currently holds some 40,000. There is one faucet for every 1,300 people and no soap.
While the European Union has called upon Greece to free the small islands with inadequate infrastructure from the migrants, currently there is neither political will, funds nor logistics in place to implement any such plan.
Title image: Migrants at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos.