Coronavirus: Greece places second refugee camp into lockdown after migrant tests positive for Covid-19

Aid groups call for evacuation of settlements amid rising fears of outbreak

Samuel Lovett
Sunday 05 April 2020 11:27 BST
Countries must isolate, test, treat and trace to reduce coronavirus epidemics, says WHO

Greek authorities have placed a second refugee camp near Athens into lockdown after a resident tested positive for coronavirus, officials announced on Sunday.

The country’s migration ministry said a 53-year-old Afghan man had been transferred from the Malakasa camp, which has a population of 1,270 people, to a hospital in the Greek capital.

His family and those he has come into contact with are in the process of being tested as the public health agency tries to trace the route of the virus.

On Thursday, the Ritsona camp was quarantined after 20 people tested positive for Covid-19. It was the first such facility in Greece to be hit since the outbreak of the disease.

Greece was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million people fleeing conflict throughout 2015 and 2016. More than 110,000 people currently live in migrant facilities across the country – 40,000 of them in overcrowded camps on five islands.

“The number (of migrants and refugees) is very large, therefore it is a given, mathematically, that there will be confirmed cases,” migration minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV. “We have an emergency plan in place ... But it is more difficult to implement it on the islands.”

No cases have been recorded in camps on Greek islands so far.

The European Commission has said that Greece will be able to manage an outbreak among the county’s refugee population.

“I think they can manage,” Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for home affairs, told MEPs on Thursday.

Gianluca Rocco, who heads the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Greece, said: “This development confirms the fact that this fast-moving virus does not discriminate and can affect both migrant and local communities.”

Calls have been made among aid groups to evacuate Greece’s refugee camps, where conditions are cramped and unhygienic, with hundreds of residents forced to share toilets, showers and water taps.

Martin Baldwin-Edwards, the director of the Mediterranean Migration Observatory, told The Independent: “There needs to be political pressure to release people from these camps and remove those situations and conditions where the virus is allowed to spread among migrant communities. It has the potential to turn into a catastrophe.”

Mie Terkelsen, a nurse who runs a clinic for pregnant women and victims of sexual in the Moria refugee camp, one of Greece’s largest migrant settlements, said that is “not possible” for residents to follow the necessary advice in limiting the spread of Covid-19.

“What we are telling people all around the world at the moment – to keep distance, to wash hands, to self-isolate if they have symptoms – none of these things are possible when you live in a refugee camp,” she told The Independent.

“In some parts of the camp there are 1,300 people per water tap. To be able to wash their hands with those measures is not very easy. They live in extremely cramped places. Often multiple families share a small tent, so being able to self isolate or anything like this is very difficult.”

“IAt the moment, more than ever, we are calling for an immediate evacuation of the most vulnerable in the camp. Those with chronic diseases and the children are extremely vulnerable if an outbreak hits.”

However, Greek authorities have pushed back on proposals to relocate the country’s migrants and refugees at a time of nationwide lockdown.

Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s minister of migration and asylum, said: “We do not have rooms in the mainland.”

The conservative government wants to replace all existing camps on islands with enclosed detention centres, but its plans have been met with resistance from local authorities and residents who want all facilities shut.

Greece recorded its first case of the new coronavirus at the end of February. Since then, it has confirmed 1,673 cases of Covid-19 and 68 deaths.

It has imposed a nationwide lockdown and banned arrivals from non-EU countries, as well as Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

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