More than 12,000 refu­gees and migrants had to flee Moria camp on Les­vos amid the COVID-19 pan­de­mic, fol­lo­wing its des­truc­tion by lar­ge fires last night. Many of them have now no roof over their heads. Sin­ce this mor­ning, despe­ra­te refu­gees – most of them fami­lies and child­ren – who attempt­ed to reach the main town in order to ask for assis­tance and to cover their basic needs have found poli­ce pro­hi­bi­ting their pas­sa­ge and are stran­ded on the road. Until the ear­ly after­noon hours, no care was repor­ted­ly taken to pro­vi­de basic assis­tance to the home­l­ess, whe­re­as more riot poli­ce units arri­ved on the island. This dis­as­ter took place a week after the Greek aut­ho­ri­ties pla­ced the camp in qua­ran­ti­ne after the first COVID-19 case was iden­ti­fied in the camp, fol­lo­wing which 35 resi­dents of the camp have tes­ted posi­ti­ve. It also occur­red hours after the Minis­try of Migra­ti­on and Asyl­um lau­ded its efforts to decon­gest the enti­re coun­try and to “regain con­trol of migration”.

The tra­ge­dy of Moria is neither new nor ine­vi­ta­ble. Refu­gee Sup­port Aege­an (RSA) and PRO ASYL have con­sis­t­ent­ly docu­men­ted the abhor­rent, dehu­ma­ni­s­ing and unsafe con­di­ti­ons facing refu­gees on Les­vos for years, as a direct result of natio­nal and EU poli­ci­es based on con­tain­ment on the islands in imple­men­ta­ti­on of the toxic EU-Tur­key deal. Respon­si­bi­li­ty-sha­ring through relo­ca­ti­on at EU level has been set up but remains far below actu­al needs, with only 533 per­sons relo­ca­ted to other Euro­pean count­ries in 2020.

This year, the dire cir­cum­s­tances are com­poun­ded by serious gaps in pre­pared­ness to pro­tect refu­gees’ phy­si­cal and men­tal well-being during the COVID-19 pan­de­mic despi­te strong calls to evacua­te the camp and court orders to trans­fer refu­gees to sui­ta­ble living con­di­ti­ons. Refu­gees who spo­ke to RSA and PRO ASYL befo­re the des­truc­tion of Moria camp descri­bed the impos­si­bi­li­ty of adhe­ring to social distancing in con­di­ti­ons of seve­re over­c­row­ding, insuf­fi­ci­ent pro­vi­si­on of masks and dis­in­fec­tants, filt­hy and insuf­fi­ci­ent hygie­ne faci­li­ties, and many dif­fi­cul­ties in acces­sing medi­cal assis­tance in the camp.

RSA and PRO ASYL belie­ve that the per­sis­tence on the hot­spot model that con­ta­ins peo­p­le on the islands, par­ti­cu­lar­ly during a pan­de­mic, leads to repea­ted cri­ses, depri­ves refu­gees of any hope and infla­mes the exis­ting xeno­pho­bic cli­ma­te in local socie­ties. This model is incom­pa­ti­ble with the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of non-dis­cri­mi­na­ti­on and the rule of law in a demo­cra­tic society.

RSA and PRO ASYL urge for an imme­dia­te and effec­ti­ve respon­se to the pres­sing needs of the refu­gees on Lesvos:

1. Prompt and ade­qua­te emer­gen­cy assis­tance in Greece: Greek aut­ho­ri­ties must ensu­re, as a mat­ter of prio­ri­ty, access to ade­qua­te shel­ter, huma­ni­ta­ri­an and medi­cal assis­tance, inclu­ding safe­guar­ding refu­gees’ phy­si­cal safe­ty. An appro­pria­te respon­se to the COVID-19 pan­de­mic on the islands also requi­res robust increase in health care staff and medi­cal equip­ment, inclu­ding acti­va­ti­on of the EU Civil Pro­tec­tion Mecha­nism as appro­pria­te. EU insti­tu­ti­ons must pro­vi­de sup­port in this direc­tion, con­side­ring the effects of the des­truc­tion on Lesvos.

2. Imme­dia­te trans­fers to sui­ta­ble accom­mo­da­ti­on on the main­land: Greek aut­ho­ri­ties must ensu­re the imme­dia­te trans­fer of refu­gees from Les­vos to open recep­ti­on faci­li­ties gua­ran­te­e­ing an ade­qua­te stan­dard of living on the main­land, start­ing with the most vulnerable.

3. Imme­dia­te expan­si­on of relo­ca­ti­on at EU level: Mem­ber Sta­tes and Schen­gen Asso­cia­ted Count­ries must streng­then and sub­stan­ti­al­ly increase their com­mit­ment to exis­ting vol­un­t­a­ry relo­ca­ti­on sche­mes and demons­tra­te their effec­tively soli­da­ri­ty to Greece. A prompt respon­se to accept the imme­dia­te trans­fer of a lar­ge num­ber of refu­gees from the island of Les­vos to other count­ries is a start­ing point for expres­sing soli­da­ri­ty, con­side­ring the deplo­rable situa­ti­on on the island.

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