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4th Jul 2022

EU: Athens can handle Covid outbreak at Greek camp

  • 20 people at the Ritsona refugee camp near Athens have tested positive (Photo: Ritsona Refugee Camp)

The European Commission says Greece will be able to manage a Covid-19 outbreak at a refugee camp near Athens.

"I think they can manage," Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for home affairs, told MEPs on Thursday (2 April).

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The outbreak is linked to the Ritsona camp of some 2,700 people who are all now under quarantine.

At least 23 have been tested positive without showing any symptoms. Greek authorities had identified the first case after a woman from the camp gave birth at a hospital earlier this week.

"This development confirms the fact that this fast-moving virus does not discriminate and can affect both migrant and local communities," Gianluca Rocco, who heads the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Greece, said in a statement.

Another six cases linked to local residents have also been identified on the Greek islands.

Notis Mitarachi, Greece's minister of migration and asylum, said there are no confirmed cases of the disease in any of the island refugee camps.

"We have only one affected camp, that is on the mainland, very close to Athens where 20 people have tested positive," he said.

Over 40,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are stuck on the islands. Of those, some 20,000 are in Moria, a camp on Lesbos island that is designed to house only 3,000.

It is unlikely conditions will improve any time soon with Mitarachi noting major changes will only take place before the year's end. He said the construction of new camps on the mainland first have to be completed.

"We do not have rooms in the mainland," he said, when pressed on why there have been no mass evacuations from the islands.

He placed some of the blame on the EU-Turkey deal, noting anyone transferred to the mainland cannot be returned to Turkey. Turkey has since the start of March refused to accept any returns given the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the deal, Mitarachi noted 10,000 people had still been transferred to the mainland so far this year. He also insisted all measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the Greek island camp refugees.

In reality, Moria has one functioning faucet per 1,300 people. A lockdown also has been imposed, making any notions of social distancing impossible.

He said all new arrivals from Turkey are separated and kept away from the camps. Special health units will also be dispatched into the camps to test for cases, he said.

Mitarachi is demanding other EU states help take in people, to ease the pressure.

Eight EU states had in early March pledged to take in 1,600 unaccompanied minors. The Commission says it expects the first relocations to take place before Easter at the latest.

The money

Greece has also been earmarked some €700m of EU funds to help in the efforts.

The first €350m has already been divided up.

Around €190m will go to paying rental accommodation for 25,000 beds on the mainland and provide cash assistance to 90,000 people under the aegis of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Another €100m will go to 31 camps run by the International Organization for Migration. Approximately €25m will go to help families and kids on the islands through the UNHCR.

And €35m is set to help relocate others out of the camps and into hotels.

The remaining €350m will go to building five new migrant centres (€220m), help pay for returns (€10m), support the Greek asylum service (€50m), enforce borders (€50m), and give an additional €10m each to Frontex and the EU's asylum agency, Easo.

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