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EU must 'do everything' to prevent outbreak in refugee camps

April 2, 2020

Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs, has rung the alarm bell over a potential coronavirus outbreak in one of the overcrowded Greek migrant camps. She told DW that this must be avoided at all costs.

Ylva Johansson
Image: imago images/ZUMA Wire/F. Sierakowski

Greece has quarantined a migrant camp on Thursday after 20 asylum-seekers tested positive for coronavirus.

All the camps are overcrowded, so DW asked Ylva Johansson the European Union commissioner for home affairs, whose portfolio includes migration, what the EU would do if COVID-19 were to spread in the overcrowded camps.

Ylva Johansson: We have to avoid that. We have to do everything to avoid that crisis. That's why we are working very hard now to set up an emergency response action plan together with the Greek authorities. And this is now in place. What we should do now is to immediately evacuate the most vulnerable individuals out of these camps so that they can be secured in hotel rooms or apartments and not be affected if the virus in these camps and also supporting with medical equipment, medical staff and other kinds of measures that we now make available for the Greek authorities and for IOM, UNHCR, that we are working closely with to deal with this situation.

Read more: Moria is a ticking time bomb for COVID-19

DW: It has been weeks since a group of EU countries agreed to take in hundreds of unaccompanied minors from the migrant camps. You're saying now that that action plan will swing into immediate effect to evacuate those kids?

No. This is the emergency plan is to evacuate the most vulnerable old people, sick people out of the camps to safe areas like hotel rooms that are available right now outside the camp so they will not stay in these conditions in the camps. The relocation of the unaccompanied minors is also going quite well. We have eight member states that are ready to welcome these are children. And I do hope that the first relocation will take place in the coming week so that they are now being transferred to transit centers where they are also being tested for the coronavirus and prepared for the relocation to these member states that are welcoming them. And for me, this is a very important message of practical solidarity in these times where we need to lead to pressure on these overcrowded camps on islands.

Read more: Coronavirus strands refugee children

You're preaching solidarity, but why is it been so difficult to find a solution for the migrants and refugees who have been stranded there, some of them for years now?

Since I took office, we have been working, working very hard to find a new deal on migration and asylum that I will propose soon, and I hope that could be acceptable for all member states. We are also working quite close together with the Greek government and the Greek authorities and the UN organizations to help have better conditions in this overcrowded camp and to relieve the pressure on these camps by relocating people out of these camps and also to return people.

Who then is actually responsible for the situation in Greece?

Of course, the Greek government is responsible for a situation in Greece, but they can't act alone. We have to show solidarity. The European Commission is providing a huge lot of money and practical things with people on the ground helping, working, day and night to help them. We're also engaging NGOs and UN organizations to help them. The Greek authorities and the Greek government is responsible, but we all are responsible to show practical solidarity towards Greece and the migrants in these overcrowded camps right now.

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