The first case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Moria camp, on the Greek island of Lesvos, where over 12,000 refugees remain crammed inside and around the camp, despite numerous demands for evacuation.
Overcrowding and limited access to clean water and washing facilities have left tens of thousands of people across the Greek islands vulnerable and exposed to the virus. COVID-19 could spread rapidly and those at risk, including the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions, must be urgently evacuated to safety before it is too late. In the meantime, they should be ensured access to all measures of protection and medical assistance that Greek people have.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working to provide hygiene materials and sanitation facilities to asylum seekers on Lesvos, and has installed a COVID-19 triage centre outside Moria. Our teams also provide mental health support to asylum seekers living in reception facilities across three Aegean islands, where clients have reported a sense of abandonment as a result of the continuous lockdown measures since March, and the undignified conditions they live in.
Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, IRC Greece Director, said:
“By now, we know the devastating impact this virus can have on individuals, families and whole communities. People across the globe have been urged to distance themselves from each other in order to prevent its spread, but social distancing and basic hygiene measures like handwashing are simply impossible to adhere to in Moria, where thousands of people live in close proximity to each other with inadequate access to running water and soap.
“As many people can be carrying the virus but not show any symptoms, it is possible there are more cases of coronavirus that have not been diagnosed. An urgent increase of healthcare and sanitation services is required, including sufficient space for isolation and quarantine.
“For too long people have been forced to live in camps with severe overcrowding and poor sanitation, waiting for months for the decision on their asylum claims. The ultimate answer to preventing the spread of COVID-19 is through the immediate evacuation of the most vulnerable cases from the camps to safe accommodation. It is untenable that even now, people are forced to live on top of each other.”
Our experience has shown that the COVID-19 outbreak has amplified the vulnerabilities of people seeking protection. Their dire situation during this public health crisis highlights the need to move away from ‘business as usual’, in order to promote long-term and humane solutions. European leadership is required more than ever before, whether when cooperating on health issues or to ensure those in need are protected and empowered in these difficult times.
The IRC has provided mental health support to asylum seekers living in Lesvos, Samos and Chios since 2018. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the IRC has scaled up its presence in Lesvos in direct response to the coronavirus outbreak, and a team of new staff members now responsible for key hygiene and health initiatives in Moria, including regular garbage collection and the installation of 24 portable toilets and water points.