MSF urges Greece to evacuate migrant camps due to coronavirus risk

FILE PHOTO: Women sit next to tents, at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, on the island of Lesbos
FILE PHOTO: Women sit next to tents, at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou/File Photo

Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has urged Greece to immediately evacuate migrants from overcrowded camps on its islands due to a high risk of the coronavirus spreading swiftly among people living in squalid conditions.

Greece reported its first fatality from the virus on Thursday, in the town of Patra on the mainland. It has confirmed 117 cases of coronavirus so far, including one on the island of Lesbos, where the notorious Moria camp is located.

“The evacuation of the camps on the Greek islands is now more urgent than ever,” the charity said.

“We need to be realistic: It would be impossible to contain an outbreak in such camp settings,” it said, adding that it had not yet seen a credible emergency plan in case of an outbreak.

More than 40,000 asylum-seekers are living in camps, which are operating far beyond their capacity on five Greek islands.

MSF did not specify where it thought the Greek authorities should transfer the migrants but said both Greece and the European Union should act swiftly to avert a disaster.

The Moria camp on Lesbos was set up to accommodate 3,000 people but now hosts at least five times that number. The MSF said that in parts of the Moria camp some 1,300 people shared just one water tap and there was no soap available.

“Forcing people to live there as part of Europe’s containment policy was always irresponsible, but with the virus spreading, it is on the verge of becoming criminal if no action is taken to protect people,” it said.

On Thursday, the Greek government suspended visits and activities of non-state organisations in refugee camps for two weeks as a preventative measure against the possible spread of coronavirus, an migration ministry official told Reuters.

The MSF said the suspension affects its operations inside the camps mainly.

“MSF works just outside Moria camp. So far we don’t have any plans to close our clinics,” an MSF official said.

Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to cross Greece’s land and sea borders from Turkey since Ankara said two weeks ago it would no longer keep them on its territory as agreed under a 2016 deal with the EU in return for aid.