SEATTLE, Washington — In 2015, more than one million refugees flooded into Greece to escape internal conflicts in the Middle East. Greece and the rest of the European Union were heavily underprepared for the large number of people migrating. Currently, approximately 115,000 refugees and migrants remain, with 40,000 of them spread throughout Greece’s islands. Due to this influx of people, refugee camps are extremely overcrowded.
On the island of Lesbos, Greece, the Moria camp hosts 18,342 people when it was built for 2,200 occupants. These refugees live in inadequate conditions, often without power or water, and garbage littered everywhere. These circumstances pose a threat of a mass transmission of COVID-19 in Greek refugee camps.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated that the “conditions on the islands are shocking and shameful. Greece—with European support—has to act now.”
The COVID-19 pandemic makes the situation at the refugee camps even more precarious. A COVID-19 crisis in Greek refugee camps could easily overwhelm a camp’s support system and leave refugees suffering. Overpopulation makes preventative measures, such as social distancing and proper hygiene, impossible. In particular, Greek refugees camps on islands such as Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos are more susceptible to diseases and viruses.
Refugees have limited access to running water, food and trained medical personnel. There have been calls to relocate refugees to mainland Greece to disperse the population, but with pandemic precautions in place, progress is slow.
On April 16, the Ministry of Migrations announced a plan to move 2,380 vulnerable people from the island camps to the mainland. Even so, this number is not enough to relieve pressure from the camps.
Relocation of Children
At this time, 10 European Member States have also offered to shelter around 1,600 unaccompanied refugee children. On April 15, three United Nations agencies moved forward with their relocation efforts and welcomed 12 children from Greece to Luxembourg.
“The importance of this crucial initiative is amplified now due to the challenges we are all facing from COVID-19,” said Ola Henrikson, the regional director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “[The] relocation of vulnerable children, especially at a time of hardship, sends a strong message of European solidarity, and we hope to see this expand soon.”
Nonprofit organizations on the ground are also working tirelessly to provide aid and services to Greek refugee camps.
3 Nonprofits Working to Prevent a COVID-19 Crisis in Greek Refugee Camps
- Greek nonprofit organization Stand by Me Lesvos offered sewing machines to four Afghan women in the Moria camp who volunteered to make face masks. The women make up to 500 masks a day, package them and then distribute the masks to camp residents who exhibit signs of sickness. The organization also prints posters to inform camp residents about the virus.
- While mental health is not often the first difficulty one thinks of when considering refugees, it is just as important. The nonprofit organization Humanity Crew provides counseling services to refugees in Lesvos, Greece to bring them a sense of stability and security. Humanity Crew empowers refugees with the tools they need to endure and move forward. Some programs offered by the nonprofit include trauma interventions, psychosocial support and mother-baby support for infants.
- Mission Lifeline, a German nonprofit organization, raised nearly €55,000 from donations to purchase flights for refugees in the Moria camp in Lesbos, Greece. Two Boeing 747-300 flights can carry around 150 people from the camp to Berlin. Mission Lifeline is currently waiting for approval from the Federal Ministry of the Interior to begin the relocation process.
The COVID-19 crisis threatens further instability in Greek refugee camps. However, if nonprofits and governments can join together to reduce the severe overcrowding in the Greek refugee camps during the COVID-19 pandemic, then there is hope that aid to the refugee camps will continue even after the pandemic.
– Zoë Padelopoulos