The humanitarian organization Watch Human Rights Watch is asking Greek authorities to do more to protect those most at risk of contracting the new coronavirus in the country's overcrowded migrant camps.
"While the Greek government is working to prevent the spread of the virus, images of squalid conditions in camps on the islands make it clear that it is not complying with the minimum preventive and protective measures against COVID-19 there," Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Wednesday.
"Even hand washing and social detachment are impossible in these circumstances."
The warning comes after Greek authorities announced on Tuesday (April 21) that 150 people had tested positive at a locked immigrant hotel in the south of the country.
The beachfront hotel on the outskirts of Kranidi, about 170 km southwest of Athens, has been in quarantine since April 16, after an official tested positive. The hotel is home to 470 asylum seekers, mainly from African countries, including many children.
None of the infected people showed any symptoms, according to the International Organization for Migration, which manages the facility. The agency urged authorities to avoid stigmatizing migrants during the pandemic.
"It is very important that these people receive ongoing support and assistance", Gianluca Rocco, IOM head of mission in Greece, said in a statement.
"Stigmatization and discrimination against migrants during the pandemic is not only harmful to the migrants themselves, but also to society as a whole, and can undermine efforts to prevent or mitigate the spread of the virus."
Currently, around 100,000 asylum seekers are in prison in Greece. And while authorities have so far managed to contain the spread of coronavirus in the general population – with considerably fewer cases and deaths than in other southern European countries, such as Italy and Spain – there are concerns about outbreaks in the country's encamped camps. .
Currently, nearly 35,000 people live in overcrowded camps on the Greek Aegean islands of Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos and Samos, according to Human Rights Watch.
No confirmed cases have yet been identified in these camps on the islands, which have been closed since mid-March, but aid workers fear it will only be a matter of time before an outbreak occurs. Two camps on the continent have already recorded cases and have been quarantined.
Human Rights Watch is urging authorities to identify the migrants most at risk from COVID-19, including the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, unaccompanied children, people with disabilities, pregnant women and newborns.
The charity argues that they and their families should be offered alternative accommodation, such as hotels or apartments. He says they must have access to food, water, sanitation, health care and other basic necessities and be able to stay at a safe distance from other families.
Migrants and aid workers in Greek island camps have consistently described extreme overcrowding and poor hygiene conditions. They say there is no way for people in these camps to comply with social detachment measures while waiting in line – often for hours on end – to get food, see a doctor, wash or use the bathroom.
On Tuesday, Greece's Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi said that 5.3% of migrants living in camps on the islands had already been transferred to the continent since the beginning of the year and that these relocations were underway.
By the end of this week, another 2,380 asylum seekers will have left the islands to be accommodated in hotels on the mainland, he said.