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Rights Group Says Lead Poisoning Risk High at Lesbos Refugee Camp

Αssociated Press

FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, file photo, a boy looks at policemen as he waits to enter a bus from Kara Tepe refugee camp for the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas, File)

Two months after saying there was a high risk of lead poisoning on the grounds of a hastily-built tent city housing refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Greece’s government is downplaying it.

A report by the site Relief Web said analysis by the rights group showed the need for immediate comprehensive soil testing, blood testing for children and more safety measures for the Kara Tepe facility

Some 12,500 people living in the former Moria camp, waiting up to two years and more for asylum applications to be processed, were burned out in a fire officials said was set by a small group upset over a COVID-19 quarantine then imposed.

The tent city, where they will spend the winter until a new facility is built later in 2021 with the help of the EU, was built on the site of a former military firing range that are often contaminated with lead from unions, HRW said in December, 2020.

"For seven weeks after the Greek government received test results that showed unsafe lead levels it took minimal action, and now is continuing to downplay the risk and the need for further action," said Belkis Wille, Senior Crisis and Conflict Researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"Exposure to lead can cause lifelong harm, and the government should listen to environmental health experts who are advising immediate action to assess and address the full risk for residents and employees in the camp, and mitigate the harm,” she added.

The New Democracy government on Jan. 27 released a report on limited soil testing from the Greek Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration (EAGME) that HRW had checked by two environmental experts and a medical expert.

They said the reported testing was insufficient in scope to fully assess the extent and severity of lead contamination at the camp and had other flaws in its assessment, added HRW.

It said the government’s report found lead contamination in some areas of the Mavrovouni temporary migrant camp where 6,900 women, men, and children are living on Lesbos, land that had been a small arms firing range.

“Putting thousands of migrant adults and children, along with aid workers, on top of a former firing range without taking the necessary steps to guarantee they would not be exposed to toxic lead is unconscionable,” Wille said earlier.