October 1, 2020

Lesbos migrants’ dire humanitarian conditions overshadow threat of Covid-19 outbreak


Lesbos migrants’ dire humanitarian conditions overshadow threat of COVID outbreak – InfoMigrants

A woman wearing a face mask queues for the daily food distribution in the informal camp set up after the Moria blaze. All photos: Mehdi Chebil for InfoMigrants
A woman wearing a face mask queues for the daily food distribution in the informal camp set up after the Moria blaze. All photos: Mehdi Chebil for InfoMigrants

Migrants who fled the Moria camp blaze one week ago are still living on the streets in grim conditions, with no proper shelter or sanitation, fuelling fears of a future surge in coronavirus cases.

Hundreds of people are waiting in line, standing close to one another, and less than one in
five are wearing a face mask — despite the current coronavirus pandemic. It’s about 4 pm in Lesbos and a group of
charities is about to begin distributing food for some of the 13,000 migrants
left homeless by the Moria blaze. As stranded migrants focus on the basics — food, water, shelter — the risk of a large coronavirus outbreak has been
largely overlooked.

“We are like
inside an overcrowded chicken farm. We are lumped together during food
distribution, it’s impossible to have one meter of distance between us,”
Jessica, a Cameroonian woman, told InfoMigrants. In her group of fellow
Cameroonians, Senegalese and Malians, no one is wearing a face mask.

“Most refugees
are not afraid of corona, but we know that we have to be careful (…) If one
person here has corona, then everyone will be infected. They would have to
destroy the camp again”, says Abolfazl, a 13-year-old Afghan boy wearing a
Abolfazl received his face mask from a Swiss charity One Happy Family They distributed some 200 masks the last they had the day after the Moria blaze Abolfazl referred to the blaze
that razed the Moria refugee camp to the ground on September 9. Nearly one week after the fires, Greek
authorities on September 15 said that five migrants had been detained for
deliberately lighting fires to protest a quarantine order after
several cases of COVID-19 infections were reported. Some migrants have disputed that, blaming
far-right locals for the blaze.

Concerns over a
coronavirus outbreak have made the resettlement of the Moria migrants even more
pressing. The whereabouts of most of the 35 migrants who had tested
positive for the virus before the blaze remain unknown. At least 21 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since Sunday, as they entered the new tent
camp erected at Kara Tepe. Greece’s migration ministry said that all people
entering the temporary site would be submitted to a coronavirus test.

Anti-Covid efforts
hampered by distrust

The government’s
efforts to limit a potential outbreak are hampered by the migrants’ deep
mistrust. Some believe that being tested positive for COVID-19 would
reduce their chance of getting asylum. “Coronavirus has nothing do with
their asylum request (…) People with coronavirus are being quarantined but
their applications will not be affected by this,” Eli Thanou, a lawyer
with the Greek council for refugees told InfoMigrants.

The main fear expressed
by migrants is to be locked down like in the former Moria camp. Despite sleeping
rough for a week, thousands continue to refuse to enter the new tent settlement
for fear they would not be able to leave again.
Afghan migrants on a supermarket parking lot Social distancing is almost impossible in these conditionsEven migrants who have
followed a coronavirus awareness training prefer to stay away from the new camp. They
can be spotted with their blue t-shirts with a message reading “Wash your hands” in English, French, Farsi, and Arabic languages.

“We learnt how to
protect people from coronavirus, how to wash hands, what are the symptoms, how
to wear and remove a mask (…) People were really concerned about that
disease before the blaze”, said Dadi Mukendi, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Paying attention to these strict sanitary rules is much harder now that he and
his group of fellow Congoleses sleep on the street. One of them shows a
box of 50 face masks but complain that it’s impossible to respect social
distancing, especially during food distribution.
Dadi Mukendi a Congolese asylum seeker shows the back of his t-shirt instructing people to regularly wash their handsA small field clinic of
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been set up alongside the stretch of road
where migrants are camped out. They refer people with clear symptoms of
COVID-19 to the hospital and call an ambulance to take them there. It happened
only once since the blaze, Faris al-Jawad, MSF’s field communication officer,
told InfoMigrants on September 14.

“The patients have
to be presenting more than just a cough, because everybody here has a cough.
They have to have other symptoms like fever”, adds Faris al-Jawad.

“Right now though the emergency from
MSF’s point of view is getting people to a safe place that is not the
street,” al-Jawad said.


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