UN Calls For Evacuation Of Moria Camp

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UN has called for the evacuation of the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, prioritising families and sick people. The announcement echoes wider concerns that refugees are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, and camps do not have the infrastructure to mitigate against the spread, nor care for the sick. 

Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN, said of the situation in Lesbos that “more than 36,000 asylum seekers are now staying in reception centres across five islands which were originally designed for 5,400 people. We are seriously concerned about the limited access to health services at the reception centres which is aggravated by the difficult living conditions.” They called for the Greek government to speed up the implementation of its plans to move thousands of asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland. Indeed, medical professionals are urging governments to take action. Dr Hana Pospisilova, a cardiologist who volunteers on Lesbos, described how she saw many people with respiratory problems being sent back to wet, overcrowded tents. She fears that a pandemic could break out in the camp. 

The coronavirus outbreak has collided with an escalating refugee crisis as an influx of migrants enter the camps, which were already past maximum capacity. Moria now hosts an estimated 20,000 people, up from 5,000 last July, as new families arrive every day from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. The situation is mirrored in Calais. Cramped conditions in the camps, and difficulty enforcing self-isolation policies, mean that should the virus hit, it would rapidly spread. The French/British coalition of NGOs People Not Walls has reported that an increasing number of migrants are living outside in cold, damp, unsanitary conditions which favour the onset and spread of disease quickly. It’s also well-known that coronavirus is more deadly for those struggling with underlying health conditions, particularly respiratory. Crucially, the camps are run by volunteers who do not have adequate healthcare training; and we can see that even the world’s best healthcare systems are struggling to cope. In light of the facts, it’s evident that the situation could become dire, and quickly. 

The camps highlights how the most vulnerable in society are likely to suffer most at the hands of the virus. Before the outbreak, European countries had already turned their back on migrants, taking measures to tighten borders and rejecting the guidelines laid down by the Geneva accord. The virus has only served to sharpen racial paranoia and limit freedom of movement. Moreover, it’s unlikely that at a time of national crisis, governments will allocate time and resources to help displaced people. 

However, it’s vital that in this pressing time we support each other, both domestically and internationally. Greece and France must find a way to step in, evacuate the most vulnerable and enforce isolation policies where necessary, and international governments must provide them with support. Currently, the risk that two global crises merge into one is imminent.