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Europe must act to stop coronavirus outbreak in Lesbos, say MEPs

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Europe must act to stop coronavirus outbreak in Lesbos, say MEPs
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As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across Europe, refugees and migrants living in overcrowded camps remain extremely vulnerable.

On the island of Lesbos, one suspected coronavirus case would be enough to raise concerns in the Moria camp. Human rights organisations are concerned asylum seekers won't have access to resources needed to prevent and then treat the outbreak.

"It will be a very difficult situation if the virus comes to Moria or any other overcrowded reception centres or hotspots on the Greek islands," admits Ylva Johansson, Commissioner Home Affairs.

"That's why it is necessary to take a lot of measures right now … So far, there is no detected virus in the camps."

NGOs have raised concerns over asylum procedures being frozen. According to the Commissioner for Home Affairs, processing applications must not be stopped.

"People arriving at the borders still have the right to apply for asylum and cannot be sent away without their claim being assessed," explains Professor Philippe De Bruycker, Institute for European Studies, Université Libre de Bruxelles. "This does not mean that nothing can be done regarding the protection of health: People requiring asylum maybe tested to see if they are sick or not, and if they are it can be applied measures such as quarantine, or even detention or restrictions of movement within the territory of the states."

Restrictions on travel and social distancing measures means delays in the asylum process are inevitable.

"A lot of member states are making the decision that the interviews with asylum seekers should not take place right now because they would like to limit the social interaction," says Commissioner Johansson. "So there will be delays in the processes of asylum, but I think that member states are taking measures to deal with the risk of the virus being spread."

MEPs have called for an “immediate European response” to avoid a humanitarian crisis spiralling into a public health crisis. NGOs warn there is little chance of not getting infected living in such conditions.