New COVID-19 cases in Lesbos refugee camp spark fresh calls for evacuation


The arrival by boat on Tuesday of two migrants who tested positive for COVID-19 has renewed calls for the evacuation of the overcrowded camps. Moria refugee camp in the Greek island of Lesbos has so far not reported cases of the virus.

In other places in Greece, two other camps and a hotel where asylum-seekers are staying, were locked down in April after positive coronavirus tests were returned.

Agencies and Greek authorities said the migrants who tested positive were among 70 asylum seekers to arrive from Turkey in two boats on May 06 and 10. All were placed in a separate quarantine facility with no contact with larger groups of asylum seekers at other facilities on the island.

The two asylum seekers who tested positive have not developed symptoms of COVID-19, officials said, adding that tests are being conducted on the other 68 migrants in the separate facility on Lesbos.

The 70 asylum seekers who arrived last week were among the first to reach Greece by sea in more than a month as coastguards have stopped boats arriving.

Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, International Rescue Committee (IRC) country director in Greece, told the Guardian that the results, though a sign that public health measures are working, show that more must be done about overcrowding and poor conditions.

She said: “Thanks to random testing carried out by the Greek National Public Health Organisation in the quarantine area at the north of Lesbos, two new arrivals on the island were confirmed to have the virus before they reached Moria, avoiding putting the 18,000 people who live there in danger.”

She also called for improved medical and quarantine facilities on the island.

Over the past few months there have been calls by medical groups to remove the most vulnerable from the island, including severely sick children.

The Greek government has asked other EU countries to take asylum seekers from the camps and some young people have left for countries including Germany and Belgium.

Last week the UK helped to organise a flight of people from Athens under family reunion laws, although rather than being an evacuation it involved people with a legal claim to join relatives in the UK.

The camp has become increasingly overcrowded and dangerous over the past year, growing from a population of 5,000 last July to around 20,000 earlier this year.

In February, a senior doctor told the Guardian that there were widespread untreated respiratory conditions among people living in damp conditions could lead to a major public health crisis.

The Greek government has promised to transfer 2,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland in order to ease the pressure on the camps there. On Sunday, 137 asylum-seekers are expected to be transferred from Lesbos to the mainland.

Greece has been lauded internationally for its success in tackling the coronavirus crisis but the IRC are keen that refugees and migrants are not punished by being kept under lockdown for longer than other people.

Greek authorities announced on Sunday that “coronavirus measures of confinement for those living in migrant camps and reception centres are prolonged until May 21.” (Source: The Guardian)