Left Out of Greece's COVID-19 Vaccine Plan: Homeless, Roma, Migrants

Αssociated Press

FILE- An Afghan woman washes her daughter with a plastic bottle of water as refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are sheltered on an nearby road on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS - Greece’s ambitious campaign to vaccinate 70 percent of a population of more than 10.5 million people - at least 7.35 million - to slow and halt COVID-19 has run into the problem of how to reach populations off the grid.

Roma living in camps that move, the homeless who can’t be counted or often found, and some 100,000 refugees and migrants in detention camps on islands and the mainland so far aren’t included.

More than 50,000 people most of whom do not have a social security number (AMKA) do not have access to the public health system and can’t - or don’t want - to be vaccinated, not including those who are but think it’s not safe or effective.

In a report on the problem, Kathimerini said there are now 732 homeless people being put up in dormitories and another 54 waiting for a bed, out in the cold as temperatures have hovered close to zero degrees.

George Stamatis, the Labor Ministry’s General Secretary for Social Solidarity and the Elimination of Poverty, sent a request to the National Organization of Public Health (EODY) on Dec.14 for the priority vaccination of the homeless and the 213 employees who work in the structures that host them, the paper said.

“The homeless are people who are suffering, most have underlying diseases. This is a vulnerable population,” he said, a provision applying to those accommodated in structures, but uncertainty over just how many homeless there are.

Asylum Service data showed 35,000-40,000 applications for asylum were rejected in 2020, but many of those denied remain in Greece and some of those whereabouts are unknown, trying to avoid detection and deportation.

There are an estimated 120,000 Greek Roma although the EU puts the number at almost double that and they’re not likely to be willing to give their cell phone numbers, those who have them, to the government, officials said.

“We can not expect that the SMS process (texting) with work,” Kostas Paiteris, President of the Union of Greek Roma Mediators told the paper and that a different approach is needed to reach 1200-1500 Roma unregistered anywhere.

Then there are rich foreigners with Golden Visas who have residency permits and European Union passports, who spend much of the year in Greece but don’t have AMKA social security numbers and no public healthcare.

The Migration Ministry said 14,876 investors and their families who bought residency renewed their permits in 2020 although with international air traffic limited it’s not known whether they returned during the pandemic.