Camps in Lockdown
Since March, major camps on the Greek islands have been in lockdown due to COVID-19.1 But while the restrictions for local residents have been relaxed and borders have opened for tourists, entry and exit from most camps are still restricted and will remain limited at least until the end of August.
“The invisible islands”
The situation in the camps on Kos and Leros is a bit different, since they are continuously “closed” camps by definition. As the camps and the islands hosting them are much smaller, there are fewer solidarity networks and very little information about the current situation. In general, there is also not much attention being given to those camps in relation to Lesvos, Samos and Chios. There are reports from Kos and Leros, that migrants living within the periphery of these camps have been forced to go inside official camp structures at the beginning of the pandemic. Similar to other camps, they also enforced enclosure and many people are afraid that a lot of these extraordinary measures will not be eliminated once the pandemic is over.2
While control and restrictions have increased in the name of public health, refugees are being further characterized by oppression and incapacitation. In addition to bearing the daily structural violence on the part of the authorities, during the lockdown, people living in the camps are also facing increased incidents of violence, especially in relation to sexual violence against women.3
Events during COVID-19-pandemic
In Chios, on April 18th, a 47 year old woman from Iraq died in quarantine. Her death and the rumors associated with it led to an uprising in the camp. The camp's inhabitants blamed inadequate medical care for the woman's death which led to protest against the camp’s unworthy living conditions. During the protest, parts of the camp were burned.4 Another fire occurred on Samos in the Vathy-Camp on April 26th. While the reason or cause remains unclear, the flames destroyed parts of the camp.5
There are reports from the Hotspot Vial on Chios, that from the 31st of July, masks are mandatory and not wearing one will result in a fine of 150 euro.6 According to a source on Twitter, no masks are provided in the camp, which then brings into question who will be able to afford masks, or even get them under lockdown conditions in the city.
Since March, there have been very few landings on the islands other than Lesvos. Aegean Boat Report lists only 39 people landing on Samos in two boats, none on Chios, Kos and Leros and 46 on other islands.7 Meanwhile, over 800 people have landed on Lesvos since Greece initiated its lockdown.
However, if it weren’t for a sharp increase in push-backs, the number of people landing on the islands would be much higher. It seems that the Hellenic Coast Guard used Covid-19 as an excuse to test and implement more dangerous and strict segregation strategies. Excluding Lesvos (85), between March and July 2020, there have been 65 reports of successful push-backs from the smaller Greek islands . Most of them were happening near Samos (19) and Kos (20), Simi (11), Kastellorizo (6), Chios (5) and Rhodes (4).
For example, on the 27th of July, there was a push-back in front of Chios by the Hellenic Coast Guard LS-611, which is stationed on Chios. The coast guard was caught stealing the fuel and towing the migrant boat back to Turkish waters. There they let it drift until it was picked up by Turkish Coast Guard.8
In addition, on the 23th and 24th of July, at least 90 people arrived on the island of Rhodes. They were never recorded by the Greek government and somehow “disappeared”. They never arrived at the camps on Leros and Kos, where people arriving on Rhodes are usually sent.9 Instead, the boat they used to arrive to Rhodes appeared in Turkish waters 3 days later.10
While these human rights violations are happening off the shores of separate islands, they cannot be considered in isolation from each other. Greece's conservative government and the European Union are actively pursuing a policy of control and exclusion of migrants. This is reflected in increasingly "closed" camps, racist protection measures regarding COVID-19 and increased push-backs. All this leads to more control over the refugees and a further restriction of their sense of agency and autonomy. The assumption is that the Greek government, with the support of the European Union, is using the pandemic as a distraction in order to make its migration policy even more restrictive and repressive. Many fear that these new measures will be left unchanged and unchecked, eternally diminishing migrant’s rights and freedoms.