The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the existing vulnerabilities of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people, according to All4Aid, a group working with refugees, asylum seekers and families in Greece who have fled their homes due to war, persecution or disaster.
A recent report from the University of Birmingham revealed that many immigrants around the world with an irregular immigration status were struggling to feed themselves and on the verge of starvation, while undocumented migrants in the UK and abroad were anxious about seeking medical help – fearful of being reported to immigration authorities and being deported – and were therefore suffering in silence.
In May 2020, tensions heightened as two migrants arriving by sea to the Greek island of Lesvos tested positive for coronavirus. The panic led to increased calls for evacuation of the overcrowded local camps, though no case had been discovered so far.
Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, International Rescue Committee (IRC) country director in Greece said it was “thanks to random testing carried out by the Greek National Public Health Organisation in the quarantine area at the north of Lesvos that the 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.”
Moria is one of Europe’s largest migrant camps where life has been more restricted since the coming of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Refugees living in these camps have limited ways of protecting themselves from the coronavirus; if it does reach the camps, the severe overcrowding and absence of proper sanitation mean that it will spread rapidly,” Dimitra added.
Danielle Aguilar is Director of International Programmes at All4Aid. She shared some of her recent experience working to help these refugees in Greece:
“Our big trouble serving these people is the social distancing. For our centres, we have been struggling to provide showers and avoid queues at all cost, even groups cannot gather in classrooms anymore.”
In early March one of their projects, the All4Aid Learning Centre, was temporarily closed down because of the escalating situation.
“The situation calls for help and support. All around the globe, people are being told to stay at home, wash their hands, and to take measures to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the new coronavirus but people living in the Moria Refugee Camp are simply not in a position to take those necessary precautions,” Danielle said.
In the past weeks, the All4Aid team have been interacting with other NGOs and the authorities to define best ways and means to help refugees and migrants in Greece during these hard times of crisis.
“Ideas like focusing on serving the most vulnerable (elderly refugees and those with respiratory health issues) and those involved in medical care, including medical translators, are being explored,” she said.
The past five months have witnessed intensified and increasing calls for the mass evacuation of Moria by aid workers and academics.
On Wednesday May 27, a publication by The Guardian revealed there are 17,421 people living in a space designed for just under 3,000; 210 people per WC and 630 per shower. Roughly, this implied nine people on average shared a 3 sqm tent as their living space. The report said residents had resolved to carry liquid soap and water barrels around, to encourage everyone to wash their hands as they pass by.
While there remain no infections in Moria, the spectre of coronavirus still looms large as social distancing is an impossibility and access to water and sanitation is also limited.
With more refugees and asylum-seekers arriving on the islands every day, it becomes increasingly important that we pray for all those involved in governance, medical care, refugee relief and outreach, and that projects like All4Aid get the resources they need to keep serving the most vulnerable.
HowWillTheyHear sends out a monthly update on how to pray for refugees in Europe. Sign up here: howwilltheyhear.net/pray
By Arrey Bate