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Coronavirus: Greece quarantines migrant camps

April 5, 2020

Public health authorities have locked down two migrant camps after residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Rights groups have called on Athens to move migrants from squalid island camps to the mainland.

Refugee camp in Malakasa, Greece
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Tzortzinis

Greek authorities on Sunday announced that a second migrant camp has been placed under lockdown restrictions after a 53-year-old Afghan migrant tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The Afghan man and his family reside in the Malakasa camp, which lies about 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Athens. Public health authorities are attempting to trace the chain of transmission, although it could prove difficult with the camp hosting some 1,800 migrants.

Read more: Moria refugee camp 'an ideal breeding ground' for coronavirus

Greece last week placed the Ritsona migrant camp in northern Greece under lockdown. Both camps will remain under quarantine for at least 14 days, according to Greece's migration ministry.

Preparing for worst-case scenario

Greek authorities are worried that an outbreak at one of its migration camps would prove nearly impossible to contain.

More than 110,000 migrants reside in overcrowded camps across the country, including 40,000 who live in squalid conditions on five Greek islands. Many of them arrived in 2015 after fleeing war and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"The number (of migrants and refugees) is very large, therefore it is a given — mathematically — that there will be confirmed cases," Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Greek broadcaster Skai TV. "We have an emergency plan in place … but it is more difficult to implement it on the islands."

'Impossible to isolate people'

Human rights organizations have called on the Greek government to transfer migrants from the islands to mainland centers. Mainland camps are considered far less crowded than their island counterparts.

Read more: German mayors plead for permission to accept underage refugees

Eva Cosse, Greek researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the conditions on the islands make it impossible to adhere to the appropriate public health guidelines designed to curb the outbreak.

"Restricting thousands of women, men and children in severely overcrowded camps, where living conditions are unacceptable, makes it impossible to isolate people exposed to COVID-19 or to comply with minimum preventive and protective measures, even hand washing and social-distancing," Cosse said.

ls/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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