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Urgent decongesting of Aegean camps needed to fend off deadly contagion

Two online petitions that call on the EU to ‘decongest’ the camps on the Greek islands to prevent a coronavirus tragedy have already garnered over 100,000 signatures in a matter of days.

The first petition, directed at EU Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urges the EU and its member states to show solidarity by helping out Greece, which has been dealing with the situation since 2015.

A newer, second petition that uses the hashtag #LeaveNoOneBehind was launched on Tuesday, and it explicitly calls for immediate action to prevent the Covid-19 catastrophe, particularly at the EU’s external borders.

Signing and supporting these two petitions are effective ways to show support and solidarity with the 40,000 asylum seekers that are currently stuck in camps on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

Even without the Covid-19 pandemic that is ravaging across the globe, the conditions in these camps in the Aegean have long been inhumane. With no adequate plans in place to deal with such an emergency, there are fears that an outbreak would have terrible consequences for asylum seekers, the employees in these hotspots, as well as the local population on the islands.

The highly inadequate measures announced by the Greek government, combined with inherent structural weaknesses in these areas and the obsession to keep asylum-seekers on these islands, all make a situation that is already very serious even more grim.

Immediate action for evacuating the people is therefore urgently needed. Contingency plans for medical isolation and social distancing are also highly necessary. All the while, the relocation of asylum seekers through proper procedures to other EU member states must be maintained and reinforced. Priority should also be given to children and the most vulnerable.

A fatal fire that ripped through Moria camp on Monday, which killed a six-year-old child, has only compounded the misery for the 20,000 people currently stranded there. Fanned by strong winds, the fire caused panic and further raises concerns about the cramped and unsanitary conditions on the Lesvos camp.

Built to accommodate fewer than 3,000 people, 20 000 are currently stuck in Moria. There is severe overcrowding, and the conditions there have deteriorated significantly since last summer, with Médecins Sans Frontières describing the situation as “the worst that they have ever seen”.

Medical facilities and access to medicines are already extremely challenging, and MSF has stated that should there be a Covid-19 outbreak in these camps, then it would be impossible for people to be evacuated.

Part of the reasons for the severe overcrowding is that many people are no longer transferred from the islands to the Greek mainland.

This crisis was exacerbated last summer after the right-wing government in Athens drastically changed the law that made it much more difficult people to gain access to asylum procedures.

Violent confrontations have also taken place between local residents and the police in recent weeks in Moria, with far-right forces like the Golden Dawn fanning the xenophobic flame by attacking NGOs, journalists and even locals who had shown solidarity with asylum seekers, as well as asylum seekers.

But the one overriding factor in the continuous, oppressive conditions in the containment policy which is a violation of human rights.

The number of arrivals have also increased in recent times, with thousands more amassing at the Greek-Turkish after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced earlier this month that new arrivals would no longer be prevented from crossing into the EU.

However, it is the Covid-19 pandemic that is of immediate concern, with contingency plans required for urgent evacuation, quarantine facilities and medical provisions both on the Greek islands and on the mainland until the transfer and relocation of asylum seekers to other member states.

What must be understood is that the threat of Covid-19 in the hotspots is a public health issue of the gravest concern and one that has a humanitarian dimension.

It goes beyond the political debates on migration and is one that could have far-reaching, negative consequences. The EU as whole, as well as the Greek authorities, have a common responsibility to address it. It can only be a matter of days – less, even – that the first positive case is confirmed and by then, it could already be too late.

Commenting on the situation, Greek MEP Kostas Arvanitis (Syriza, Greece) says:

“This latest tragedy in Moria isn’t “new”. It is a continuing tragedy – one that continues to shame Europe.”

“Neither this tragedy nor the Covid-19 pandemic could hide the fact that the situation in the Aegean Sea is beyond ‘grave’.”

“But as long as the Greek government persists with its far-right ideology of ‘deterrence’, as well as the necessity for a complete ‘decongestion’ plan, this tragedy will claim more victims”.

“The Greek government and the EU must listen to what many of us, progressive citizens, demand: show some pan-European solidarity and ‘decongest the islands. We have no more time to lose,” added the Greek MEP.

German MEP Cornelia Ernst (Die Linke, Germany) also said:

“If we look at what is going on all over Europe right now with Covid-19, it is absolutely clear to me that we should take the situation very seriously.”

“We are facing an emergency that requires people in the Greek island hotspots are immediately evacuated and taken up by other member states. There is no alternative to this, and not much time left.”

“European governments must act now to protect everybody currently on these islands.”

 

 

Photo courtesy of Fotomovimiento on Flickr

 

 

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