Whereas containment measures are being put in place on the island of Lesvos, it is surprising that nothing is done for the island's focal point, Moria refugee camp, in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. On Lesvos, it is forbidden to go outside in groups bigger than two people. At the same time, more than 20,000 people live crowded in a camp that was designed for 3,000 persons. While the virus has been circulating around the world and the media for months, no evacuation has been planned, no specific health services have been set up, nor any additional means have been developed either for the general hospital of Mytilene, the capital of the island, or for the health services operating inside the camp itself.
For the people living in the “Olive Grove,” the extended area of makeshift tents surrounding the official camp, the water valves only typically work for four hours a day and you never know if they will be functional from one day to the next. Individuals and NGOs distributed soaps, basic hygiene products and masks (1 per person for the few beneficiary tents). They also set up a hand washing station in front of the camp and posted informational flyers. There is no overarching organizational structure that guarantees access to health and safety product or even basic hygiene items to all the people living inside Moria. No special measures have been implemented, nor has any action been discussed to initiate an exceptional distribution of hygiene products. Civil Society is preparing for this crisis, neither the UNHCR nor the local and governmental authorities seem to be able to implement such simple hygiene and prevention measures and guarantee access to it for all people in the camp.
The streets of Mytilene are empty as a result of the movement restrictions and police harassment on people of colour or Muslim people is all the more flagrant. People living in Moria must request permission to leave the camp from the camp police. Only 100 people per hour and one member per family are allowed to be outside the camp. Testimonies report that it is hard to get this permission, which is why many do not even try anymore, knowing that getting a permission is just another line to stand in for hours.
It is clear that prevention measures are not the same in Mytilene and Moria. Everything is organised to ensure that the inhabitants of Moria leave the camp as little as possible, but nothing is put in place regarding restrictions of movement within Moria itself. In contrast to Mytilene, the alleys of Moria are crowded with people wandering between the lines of shops, street sales (on ironing boards or blankets), hairdressing salons, artisanal bakeries and any other pop-up shop that can bring in a few pennies. Rather than enforcing social distancing uniformly, the police patrols the road to and from the camp to yell at people to stay home and not to gather together. What cynicism! How is it possible to respect the recommended minimum distance of 1.50 meters between people, when 15 people are sharing a small tent, and the tents themselves are encroaching upon one another. Furthermore, people have to queue for meals and access to toilets and to the showers which are not disinfected between each passage or even once a day.
Testimonials coming from medics and residents in the camp are in agreement that no measures have been taken in preparation for any possible epidemic. There is no emergency plan in place, and, to make matters worse, no measures are being taken for people arriving with a fever and cough to the health services. Instead, people are prescribed with generic medicines and sent back to their tent without any test, mask or other medical appointment to follow-up with their case.
Do not test, do not see. This is the political treatment of COVID-19 by the Greek government for Moria camp.
Once again, the most deprived are the most forgotten of any general political or health policy program. As for the people in solidarity and NGOs, they are more and more advised to get less close to the camp and to the people living inside them to not take the risk of bringing the virus inside. Thereby refugees stranded in Moria are deprived from necessary support, while they are isolated even further and the public eye is kept from observing everything that is happening inside the camp. Living in Moria kills people and destroys human lives every day of the year: by fire, attacks, suicides, failure to take into account chronic illnesses with paracetamol as the only treatment, rape, human trafficking, depression…
Solidarity includes all people, not depending on their race, social or political status. Already vulnerable people are especially threatened by a deadly infection because they do not have access to the resources to prevent the spread and do not get medical treatment. We demand #LeaveNoOneBehind and: evacuate the camps, adequate measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, like soap, hand washing stations and masks, emergency plans to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19, testing, medical treatment and isolation of (potential) infected people.