New York, September 3, 2020—In response to the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, the Greek government is enforcing a potentially harmful quarantine on all migrants and asylum seekers in the camp. This type of mass quarantine is dangerous and must be avoided at all costs, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
“[There is no] justification for the enforced mass quarantine,” said Caroline Willemen, MSF field coordinator for COVID-19 on Lesbos. “In a place that’s so overcrowded, it means nobody can keep social distance and there is not enough water and sanitation facilities for people to wash their hands on a regular basis. What’s worse, we know these measures will worsen our patients’ already deteriorating mental health.”
These restrictive measures are being implemented as an attempt to cover up a lack of comprehensive strategy to reduce transmission in the camp and protect the 13,000 people squeezed into a space designed to host 3,000, said MSF.
“What is happening is that COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to limit the freedom and rights of people who are seeking safety,” said Willemen. “A proper public health response is what is needed, with contact-tracing as well as testing, a serious boost to hygiene conditions, and healthcare services that are easily accessible. The local health authorities have started testing the residents of the camp for COVID-19, but that is a fraction of what needs to be done.”
At the end of July, MSF was forced to close its COVID-19 isolation center on Lesbos after local authorities imposed fines with potential criminal charges related to urban planning regulations—a decision by the Greek Government that significantly reduced the COVID-19 response capacity on the island.
The number of COVID-19 confirmed cases among non-migrant residents of the island has risen recently, but so far there is only one confirmed case of COVID-19 among residents of Moria camp. The Greek government must require local health officials to implement a comprehensive public health response for the asylum seekers in Moria—not to imprison them in horrific conditions under the pretense of protecting the island from the spread of the virus.