As the spread of the COVID-19 increases and deaths rise globally we have seen lockdown measures for nearly a quarter of the worldwide population. Amongst this, over 40,000 refugees are trapped in makeshift camps on the islands of the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, with thousands still making the journey from Turkey to the EU into Greece.
Before Europe became the epicentre of the crisis, Europe’s media had its eyes fixed upon the land and sea border between Greece and Turkey as Turkeys President, Erdogan, allowed migrants to leave Turkey for the EU earlier in the year.
Although there has been a major reduction in refugees heading for the border it’s the camps themselves that pose the potential humanitarian crisis. The Moria Refugee Camp on Lesbos, just off the west coast of Anatolia, is overcrowded and many are worried about the cramped condition and lack of health services. This provides the perfect conditions for the spread of COVID-19 among residents of the camps.
The UN Refugee Agency issued a brief on their website disclosing the stats for the refugee camps in Greece, “More than 36,000 asylum seekers are now staying in reception centres across five islands which were originally designed for 5,400 people.” The brief goes on to explain that, “over 5,300 unaccompanied children in Greece, only less than a quarter are in adequate shelter for their age.”
In early March the Greek government set out a 12-point plan for dealing with COVID-19 in the camps. As a result, visits and activities within the camps have been cancelled and residents can only move around the camps when absolutely necessary. Only one member of each family is allowed to shop outside the camps. Special police buses take them to prearranged shops. All camps are under a general curfew from 9 p.m.
These, however, are seen as face value measures and don’t tackle the real problem of overcrowding and poor sanitation. Franziska Grillmeier, a freelance journalist living on the island of Lesbos, tweeted about the inadequacy of these measures, “Police car is driving in front of #Moriacamp shouting to camp residents through speaker to avoid crowds. This must seem like a cruel joke to the 18,949 #refugeesgr who are currently stuck, tent on tent, without running water for hours & any sufficient electricity supply in RIC.”
Currently Greece’s confirmed COVID-19 cases remain one of the lowest in Europe. This gives Greece some leeway to deal with the relocating of refugees to the mainland to prevent the spread in the overcrowded and poorly managed camps on the islands.