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Greece Closes Lesbos Refugee, Migrant Camp Medical Care, COVID-19 Center

Αssociated Press

Refugees and migrants wearing masks arrive at the port of Piraeus , near Athens, on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

While, curiously, there hasn't been an outbreak of COVID-19 in detention centers holding more than 100,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, who came via Turkey where they had gone fleeing war and strife in their lands, a center to close a virus isolation center on the island of Lesbos has generated criticism as it treats other illnesses as well.

In a report, The British newspaper The Guardian said that the charity Médecins San Frontières (MSF) said it was forced to close the center after authorities imposed fines and potential charges.

There are more than 34,000 people in camps and centers on five Greek islands near the Turkish coast, including more than 18,000 in the notorious Moria camp on Lesbos, a glimpse of which was seen in the recent film The Trip to Greece.

Almost all are seeking asylum after the European Union closed its borders to them and other countries reneged on promises to help take some of the overload and as a 2016 swap deal with Turkey has essentially been suspended.

The story noted that the doctors treat a number of cases at the center that has been shut, the staff saying it will deprive people of often critically-needed care, including those with serious medical conditions.

“Only highly severe cases can be transferred to the mainland,” Babis Anitsakis, director of infectious diseases at the hospital in Mytilene, told the Guardian. “This is also the case for the local population.” Such cases often involve a wait of two to three months in the camp before a transfer can be arranged, he said.

“We are confronted with patients from Moria daily who have sicknesses like tuberculosis or HIV. We are simply not equipped for these treatments. On top of it, we face tremendous translation difficulties. At night the medical staff work with a phone translation app to communicate with the patients, which can be disastrous in an emergency situation.”

Giovanna Scaccabarozzi, a doctor with MSF on Lesbos, complained to the paper that, 

“Even survivors of torture and sexual violence are now left to themselves with no one to talk to and with no possibility to escape the highly re-traumatising space of Moria.”

“From five to 10 appointments a day, we are now down to two to three a week in the torture clinic in town,” Scaccabarozzi said. Even when people reach the clinic, “it feels like treating someone with a burn while the person is still standing in the fire”.

The closure of the COVID-19 isolation unit on Thursday is down to the island’s authorities enforcing planning regulations, MSF said. 

“We are deeply disappointed that local authorities could not quash these fines and potential charges in the light of the global pandemic, despite some efforts from relevant stakeholders,” said Stephan Oberreit, MSF’s head of mission in Greece. “The public health system on Lesbos would simply be unable to handle the devastation caused by an outbreak in Moria – which is why we stepped in. Today we had to unwillingly close a crucial component of the COVID-19 response for Moria.”