'Everyone at risk’ as coronavirus cases tick up among migrants and refugees sheltering in Greece
With 23 migrants at an open accommodation site in central Greece testing positive for COVID-19, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) sounded the alarm on Thursday over conditions in crowded reception centres on five Greek islands where the virus risks taking hold.
The Ritsona site – a one-hour drive from Athens - about 75 kilometres away - is one of 30 facilities on the Greek mainland that accommodate a total of more than 25,000 people.
The authorities have put it under quarantine for the next 14 days after the first confirmed COVID-19 case emerged on Tuesday. Its residents, including 252 unaccompanied children, have been advised to remain in their accommodation as contract tracing and further testing continues.
Equal access to services is critical
“Everyone is at risk. Migrants and refugees in Greece are susceptible to the virus as much as the Greek community,” said Gianluca Rocco, Chief of IOM’s Mission in Greece.
“It is critical that everyone, including migrant and refugees on the mainland and the islands, are ensured equal access to health services, including prevention, testing and treatment, especially in times like these,” Mr. Rocco said.
“Immediate inclusion of all migrants in the national response to COVID-19 is not only a humanitarian measure, but essential to public health policy in Greece.”
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus on the Greek maintain is meanwhile raising concern for migrants in reception and identification centres on five Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, IOM said in a statement.
In those locations, overpopulation makes it extremely difficult to take necessary precautions, such as social distancing and vigilant hygiene, IOM said, adding that it stands ready to help relocate residents to the mainland.
Camps on Greek islands must be decongested
“The threat of COVID-19 makes it even more urgent to decongest the camps on the islands,” Mr. Rocco said. “IOM is contributing to these efforts with the creation of new accommodation arrangements on the mainland.”
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IOM is also establishing a temporary voluntary return mechanism on the five islands for those who decide to return to their home countries, in collaboration with the European Commission and Greek authorities. The implementation and duration of that programme will be adjusted in line with virus-related measures taken by States, such as the closure of airports or other travel restrictions.
“This is, however, not an easy task and needs further measures and support from European Union member States,” Mr. Rocco said, renewing IOM’s call for European solidarity with Greece for the urgent relocation of unaccompanied children and other migrants to European countries willing to share responsibility.
With funding from the European Union, the IOM is present in all 30 open accommodation facilities on the Greek mainland, distributing cleansers and soaps to all residents. It is also translating and handing out guidance on how refugees and migrants can best guard against infection.