Home World Greece heartbreak: Why social distancing is impossible on ‘congested’ islands

Greece heartbreak: Why social distancing is impossible on ‘congested’ islands

Thousands of refugees are crammed into destitute camps as they endure an agonising wait for asylum to be granted and their route from war torn countries to the European Union is complete. But as their stay on the islands, including Moria and Lesvos, goes on, many are faced with the grim prospect of not being able to carry out the desired social distancing measures the Greek government is demanding of its citizens. Panic is still spreading throughout the Greek islands over the coronavirus pandemic, despite Greece’s government readying itself to ease lockdown restrictions on its capital Athens.

The idyllic islands have become refugee hotspots after Turkey disobeyed its pact with the EU and opted to allow thousands of migrants the chance to cross the seas and land in Greece.

Istanbul argued its reason for allowing the move was in part due to the bloc’s slow approach to moving them on from Greece, which in turn affected the numbers in Turkey.

This has seen a massive boom in the volume of people making the hazardous trip in the attempt to reach the EU and safety from their home nations.

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Greece, though, continues to refuse any new asylum applications, leaving those already broken from their horror journey, in an even bigger state of limbo, while living in camps with no running water or sanitation facilities.

Greece heartbreak: Why social distancing is impossible on ‘congested’ islands (Image: GETTY)

Greece heartbreak: Why social distancing is impossible on ‘congested’ islands (Image: GETTY)

And speaking from Lesvos, the International Rescue Committee’s programme manager for Greece, Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos exposed the grim reality of what is really going on inside the camps.

He told Express.co.uk: “The restriction of movement means that it’s not easy for the refugees or asylum seekers who live in and around the camp to leave the area and go to town to go to supermarkets or visit other services if they need to, and this causes some frustration to the people. 

“When asylum seekers living in the camp read the guidelines about the importance of social distancing and frequent handwashing, they know that none of these crucial measures can be implemented in Moria. 

“Our clients have told us that their stress levels have increased, and I totally understand why. 

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Greece heartbreak: Why social distancing is impossible on ‘congested’ islands (Image: GETTY)

“They know how vulnerable they are to this virus.”

The continual fear the human rights charity IRC has is that should any more cases of COVID-19 get through the camps, it would quickly spread due to the current living conditions for the refugees.

So far, Mr Panagiotopoulos said “there had been no cases of the virus confirmed in Moria”, and “for that we are incredibly lucky”.

But in other camps on the islands cases have begun to be reported in the past month.

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Greece heartbreak: Why social distancing is impossible on ‘congested’ islands (Image: GETTY)

As a whole, Greece has seen 134 of its citizens die as a result of coronavirus, while just over 2,500 have tested positive for the killer infection.

That figure is tiny compared to other nations in Europe, such as the UK, which over the weekend confirmed more than 20,000 people were dead after contracting COVID-19.

Yet, Mr Panagiotopoulos has warned Greece and the rest of the EU that migrants have to be moved on to ensure their safety, as well as those on the islands.

He added: “This pandemic has not created the need for humane conditions, swift asylum procedures and decongestion of the islands – but has exposed how painfully it impacts people that are already among the most vulnerable populations within Europe’s borders. 

“People need to be transferred immediately from Moria to other locations in the mainland, as well as other European Member States, where they can live in far better conditions and have their asylum claims heard. 

“We must also remember that this is not just about the health of asylum seekers but also about the local communities of Lesvos and the other Greek islands. 

“Before COVID-19, it was very important for the islands to be decongested. But now it is essential.”


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