Living in Fear: Residents of the Moria Refugee Camp
19th June 2020
As restrictions lift across Europe and the wider world, an atmosphere of nervous excitement and relief is rising throughout the country. After almost three months in lockdown, we are eager to get back to life in this ‘new normal’. Unfortunately, for so many, the COVID-19 virus still poses a very real concern. On the Greek island of Lesbos, residents of the Moria refugee camp live with this constant threat. An outbreak in the camp would be undoubtedly disastrous.
In 2015, Camp Moria was built to house a maximum of 3000 people temporarily. In mid-May of this year, conservative estimates put the number of asylum seekers living in the camp at well over 17,000. This high volume is in part due to the 2016 migration agreement between the EU and Turkey. This requires that all, except for the most vulnerable, must submit their asylum claim in the first island in which they land. The agreement, which was an attempt to reduce the number of refugees travelling through mainland Europe, also requires that once a claim has been submitted, the applicant must remain there until it has been completed.
As a whole, Greece has had a startlingly low number of COVID-19 related deaths sitting at 183 at time of publication. This is largely in part to the quick and decisive action of the government who chose to shut down traditional gatherings, schools and universities in February before any viruses had been reported. By mid-March most of the country was in lockdown, this also includes Moria. Prior to the restriction, residents were able to exit the camp while remaining on the island. Now, however, excluding those with medical appointments, only people with one of 70 daily permits can exit the camp.
“Poor sanitation and lack of self-isolation facilities, would be catastrophic should there be an outbreak“
On the 12th of May, two migrants who arrived at Lesbos by sea tested positive for coronavirus, despite Greek authorities being successful in preventing an outbreak in the camp so far. We know that it can take up to two weeks for those carrying COVID-19 to display symptoms. This, in conjunction with the poor sanitation and lack of self-isolation facilities, would be catastrophic should there be an outbreak.
According to the ‘Watershed Foundation’, a German NGO whose mission is to bring adequate water and drainage to the most vulnerable, state stagnant water remains an enormous problem in many refugee camps, including Moria. With limited water access points, people are resigned to collecting barrels of water and carrying them back to their tents. In many areas of the camp, toilets are 1 to 210 people with some showers 1 to 600 people, making access to regular basic sanitation almost impossible.
The serious congestion, along with the poor sanitation facilities, and the looming threat of this global pandemic is causing increasing tensions, with intermittent fights breaking out. In mid-May, two serious fights erupted, from which a 23 year old woman died and a 21 year old man was left in a critical condition.
While many industries in mainland Greece are preparing to open, lockdown in the camp, which measured a little under 1 km² began to ease on the 7th of June, although strict restrictions are still in place. As the Greek government continues to call for other countries to relocate asylum seekers, to help ease overcrowding, a potential outbreak in Moria should still remain heavy on everyone’s mind.
Featured photo by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly