While no cases of the COVID-19 Coronavirus have been reported in vastly overcrowded refugee detention centers and camps on Greek islands holding 42,000 of them, the European Union has asked the government to move the most susceptible to other areas.
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson – not the EU chief responsible for migrations, Greece’s Margartis Schinas from the ruling New Democracy party – told Reuters the government has resisted moving refugees and migrants to the mainland although earlier saying it would transfer 20,000 after protests from island officials and residents.
With most of the EU, including Greece, on partial lockdowns, Johansson said the elderly, sick and others most at risk of infection could be moved to other areas on the Greek islands.
“We are working together with the Greek government and the Greek authorities to agree on an emergency plan to help reduce the risk as much as possible in the overcrowded hotspots on the islands,” she told the news agency in a telephone interview.
“It could be relocation of the most vulnerable individuals from the overcrowded camps to other areas on the islands,” she also said. That would alleviate some overcrowding with the notorious Moria camp in Lesbos holding 18,000 people in a facility designed for 3000.
Government health officials had already warned the camps and centers were health bombs and some two dozen human rights groups, activists, volunteers, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in them said conditions are inhumane and unsanitary.
“Thousands of people, including older people, those with chronic diseases, children … pregnant women, new mothers, and people with disabilities, are trapped in dangerously overcrowded, deplorable conditions on the islands amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” Human Rights Watch said.
“Forcing asylum seekers to remain in conditions that violate their rights and are harmful to their well-being, health, and dignity cannot be justified on grounds of public health,” the New York-based group said in a statement.
The EU though has closed its borders to refugees and migrants, dumping the problem largely on Greece during the midst of the country’s near decade-long economic crisis – a recovery has been crushed by COVID-19’s effect.
Other countries have also reneged on promises to help take some of the overload and neither Schinas nor his predecessor, New Democracy’s Dimitris Avramopoulos, did much to help aid their country and didn’t take other countries to court to force compliance.
The refugees and migrants came through Turkey from their homelands which they had fled over war, strife and miserable economic conditions. The EU said it would take 1,600 unaccompanied children from Greek camps but that didn’t happen either.
“My hope is that we can start with the relocation in the coming weeks,” also said Johansson.