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Europe accused of 'turning a blind eye' to risk of coronavirus in migrant camps

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By Luke Hurst
Migrants walk past makeshift tents outside the perimeter of Moria refugee camp
Migrants walk past makeshift tents outside the perimeter of Moria refugee camp   -   Copyright  AP

An NGO has accused Europe of “turning a blind eye” to migrants stuck in camps on Greek islands, pointing to the impossibility of social distancing measures to avoid spreading coronavirus in such conditions.

At Moria camp on Lesbos, which despite being built to house 3,000 currently hold 20,000 people, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres expressed concerns about the likelihood of coronavirus spreading swiftly through the camp.

Regarding government advice to maintain social distancing, and self-isolation for those displaying symptoms of COVID-19, MSF Field Coordinator Marco Sandrone said to the people of this camp it sounds like “a joke”.

“How can you ask someone living in a tent to go back and isolate in his room? How can you ask to avoid social contact for people that are queuing in such small areas for the food for the toilets? How can you ask children or a woman to increase their level of hygiene if there is not even enough toilet and shower and water point in the camp? So all of these measures for Moria, they don't apply,” he said.

In recent days the camp has reported shortages of running water, and while there have been no official preventive measures taken at the camp so far, MSF says masks and sanitation equipment have been distributed by volunteers.

"Medical care cannot be undermined today only because there is no specific plan from the government," adds Sandrone.

"Only because Europe is still turning a blind eye on these people."

Coronavirus cases have been detected in two camps outside the capital Athens, with one going into lockdown on Sunday morning.

With no cases so far confirmed on the island camps, the Greek government says its plan was operational early enough and “had extremely good results”.

Citing a lack of cases in the island camps, the General Secretary of the Greek migration ministry, Manos Logothetis, said: “We are actually really worried about these remarks coming from the NGOs, concerning the implementation of the plan and we are really impressed, since all the NGOs that are currently active in Greece are part of this operational plan and they have been informed in time for the implementation of the plan.”