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Alarm Sounds Anew Over COVID-19 Fears in Greece's Refugee Camps

Αssociated press

Migrants, who currently live at Moria camp, cut cloth to sew protective masks, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, (AP Photo/Aggelos Barai)

ATHENS - More worry about the COVID-19 virus spreading in Greece's detention centers and camps, including those on five islands holding 42,000 of them, is rising although no cases have been reported so far in facilities health officials said were health bombs.

In a feature from London, BuzzFeed News said no testing is being done in the camps and centers and there are few sanitary facilities that prevent people from being able to wash their hands frequently as recommended.

Human Rights Watch and other activists and non-governmental organizations working in the camps, with another 58,000 refugees and migrants on the mainland, said conditions were already inhumane.

The worst place, they said, is the notorious Moria camp on the island of Lesbos that has some 20,000 refugees and migrants, about 18,000 in a facility designed for one-sixth that with another 2,000 outside in tents and makeshift shelters.

Aid groups are warning that the coronavirus could pose a catastrophic threat to people housed in Greece’s camps that could further the spread throughout the country, the report said.

The facilities are filled with people who fled their homelands fearing war and strife and to get away from economic misery, going to Turkey first which has let human traffickers keep sending them during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union, mostly through Greek islands.

While the New Democracy government imposed a lockdown and set social distance guidelines that people should stay 1.5-meters (4.96 feet) apart from each other, that isn't possible in the camps which also don't have enough toilets or showers.

Greece as of March 26 had 892 cases, including two on Lesbos – not in the camps - with 71 fatalities around the country.

The doctors without borders group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called for the urgent evacuation of Moria, which had already been demanded by residents and officials there and on four other islands holding refugees and migrants.

“When the virus hits overcrowded settlements in places like Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Greece, the consequences will be devastating,” Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said on March 16. “We must act now.”

George Makris, a medical doctor,  a coordinator in Greece for MSF, described the water and sanitation conditions in Moria and other camps in the country as “tragic.” His organization tried to improve access to water, he said, but it has not been enough.

“The transmission of the virus cannot be contained there,” he said. “We have warned this repeatedly in the past in the context of other infectious disease outbreaks like meningitis and measles.”

“Our message is simple,” he added. “As health authorities are saying all mass gatherings are prohibited, mass containment should also be avoided.”