lockdown refugee camps

Refugee Week: Lockdown Continues at Greek Refugee Camps

Lockdown at Greek Refugee Camps Extended

The Greek government has stated that lockdown restrictions at refugee camps will continue until at least the 21st of June.

With just 3,121 cases and 183 deaths, Greece’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become an international success story

Many feared that years of political instability and economic decline coupled with an aged population would result in Coronavirus having a catastrophic impact on the Hellenic nation.

However, on the 27th of February- one day after the first confirmed COVID-19 case was recorded- the government took the decision to cancel the annual carnival. Just twelve days later, a full set of nationwide lockdown measures were introduced. 

Athens airport reopened on the 15th of June, marking the beginning of the tourism season. [Image: Welcome Pickups]

It is the immediacy and urgency with which the government responded that avoided a potential disaster. Not only has Greece recorded the fourth lowest death rate in Europe, but as of the 4th of May, the nation began its gradual lifting of the restrictions that proved so pivotal in its success. 

As of today (15th June), the country’s two main international airports in Athens and Thessaloniki were opened, marking the start of the long-awaited tourism season.

Many feared that years of political instability and economic decline coupled with an aged population would result in Coronavirus having a catastrophic impact on the Hellenic nation.

Yet these developments only serve to make the Greek government’s continued imposition of lockdown measures at refugee camps more confusing. 

Refugees and asylum seekers at camps on both the mainland and the Aegean islands are still subjected to restrictions that make a harrowing existence even more challenging. 

Although the restrictions were scheduled to be lifted on the 7th of June, this date has now been pushed back until at least the 21st of June, with the government citing the public’s interest in limiting ‘the spread of COVID-19 in areas of overcrowding’ as the reason for the extension. 

 A press release from the NGO Human Rights Watch has criticised the Greek government for their decision, pointing out that while restrictions on freedom of movement in the interests of public health can be justified, they must be based on scientific evidence.

lockdown refugee camps
The Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. [Image: Morning Star]

In addition, they must be ‘neither arbitrary or discriminatory in their application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, and subject to review.’

The press release goes on to point out that the camp lockdowns do not meet these criteria. Not only has there been zero recorded COVID-19 cases recorded at any of the camps on the Aegean islands, the mainland camps have not experienced any cases since April.

According to Human Rights Watch, there is no evidence that suggests that refugee camps require more intense lockdown restrictions than other parts of the country. The NGO also argues that, despite receiving financial support from the European Commission, Greek authorities have done very little to remedy the issues of overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate healthcare that make life in the camps so difficult.

Refugees and asylum seekers at camps on both the mainland and the Aegean islands are still subjected to restrictions that make a harrowing existence even more challenging.

One of the only actions undertaken by the government has been to move island camp residents to the mainland. Since mid-April, around 3,000 refugees have been relocated via this means. But with the Aegean camps holding around 31,000 people despite having a capacity for 6,095, this has been so far ineffective at solving the problem.

In the words of HRW:

‘The Greek government should stop using Covid-19 as an excuse to force people to live in segregated, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions.

Instead, it should immediately lift discriminatory and unjustified restrictions on migrants’ freedom of movement, protect their health, provide timely and fair examination of asylum claims, and massively and humanely reduce the overcrowding that has been a problem for years.’

Written by
Cameron Boyle