COVID could turn Moria camp into ‘ticking time bomb’, aid organisations warn

Camp Moria, which was originally designed to house some 2,500 people, is currently home to around 18,000 asylum seekers, of which 900 are unaccompanied minors, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). EPA-EFE/DIMITRIS TOSIDIS [EPA-EFE/DIMITRIS TOSIDIS]

The Greek authorities have largely sealed off Camp Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos to prevent a coronavirus outbreak as massive restrictions apply to its approximately 18,000 inhabitants. But aid organisations have almost completely suspended their work and are raising the alarm about the conditions in the camp. EURACTIV Germany reports.

A haunting silence runs across Europe’s largest refugee camp these days.

In a place where camp residents, authorities and NGOs used to meet, the Greek police are now in charge of who enters and leaves a camp that is now fearing a coronavirus outbreak.

“People are afraid, they hardly ever leave their tents”, Natalia Kafkoutsou, who works as a lawyer in Lesbos for the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), told EURACTIV. The camp’s residents have received information on what behavioural measures should be taken to avoid an outbreak.

However, Kafkoutsou said that it was impossible to maintain hygienic standards on site.

“Organisations are currently working on improving the water supply and setting up new washing facilities,” said Kafkoutsou. Over 20,000 soaps have been purchased for the residents in recent weeks.

But an average of 500 residents share one shower, while 160 share a toilet, according to a report published by the GCR in cooperation with OXFAM published on 1 April.

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Preparation for complete lockdown

Camp Moria, which was originally designed to house some 2,500 people, is currently home to around 18,000 asylum seekers, of which 900 are unaccompanied minors, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Several hundred people have to stand in line, often for hours, just to receive their meals.

“Under these circumstances, it is completely impossible to follow rules of ‘social distancing’, or to isolate oneself,” the GCR stressed in its latest report.

Greek authorities are working on expanding the infrastructure within the camp. In addition to ATMs, shops are to be set up where food and other daily necessities can be bought. This should prevent the inhabitants from continuing to travel to Mytilene to shop where they come into contact with the islanders. For now, 60 inhabitants are allowed to leave the camp every hour from 7 am to 7 pm.

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Insufficient medical and psychological care

Those aid organisations that have not yet fully ceased their work are working from their offices and can be reached by telephone or e-mail by asylum seekers.

“However, we do not know how many asylum seekers are actually able to use the service – many lack the necessary know-how, some don’t even have the necessary equipment,” Kafkoutsou added. This means that residents can no longer rely on sufficient psychological care or legal assistance.

Furthermore, according to Kafkoutsou, medical care has also been reduced to a minimum.

A total of three doctors remain in the camp, who would divide the work in shifts. Provisional medical practices are set up near the camp, which in the worst-case scenario would also serve as quarantine facilities.

The aid organisations are particularly concerned about the care of unaccompanied minors remaining in the camp. The restrictions of the last few weeks would have led to only one nurse being assigned every morning to the camp’s department where they are mainly accommodated.

“However, for the rest of the day,” according to the latest report from the GCR and OXFAM, “the children are left to their own devices”.

So far, eight confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported on Lesbos.

'Corona time' in Europe's main migrant camp in virus lockdown

In Europe’s biggest asylum seeker camp of Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos, authorities are trying to keep residents apart from a population with at least three coronavirus cases.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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