Coronavirus case on Lesbos spreads fear among migrants held in deplorable conditions

Coronavirus case on Lesbos spreads fear among migrants held in deplorable conditions
A case of COVID-19 on Lesbos has sparked worries of its spread to Moria camp, where 20,000 people are kept in cramped conditions, worsened by recent anti-migrant violence.
3 min read
11 March, 2020
Many of Moria's residents live in makeshift tents or have no shelter at all [Getty]

A confirmed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus on the Greek island of Lesbos has spread panic among migrants and asylum seekers being held in Moria camp, known for its appalling unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, and where an outbreak could have devastating consequences.

Fears have been heightened by an expose in the New York Times revealing how migrants are being held  at a secret extrajudicial ‘black sites’ before being deported to Turkey without due process, in a cruel process that violates international law.

Many have been kept in warehouses in dire conditions, and complained of being treated “like animals” by the Greek security guards.

A video obtained by Der Spiegel purported to show a Greek navy vessel deporting an estimated 500 people, including pregnant women and children, to Turkey.

A 40-year-old woman was diagnosed with the virus on Monday, the first reported case on the Greek island.

Greek authorities swiftly expressed concern over the possibility of the virus spreading on Lesbos and its surrounding islands, where thousands of migrants are crammed into overcrowded camps or sleeping rough.

The woman diagnosed had recently travelled to Israel and Egypt, part of a Holy Land pilgrimage group to which most of Greece’s cases have been traced. She was placed in quarantine on Sunday, ERT television reported.

More than 1,700 asylum seekers arrived in Greek islands on the Aegean sea last week, the majority in Lesbos, after Turkey decided to open its borders with Greece to pressure the European Union to implement what it says are unfulfilled pledges under a previous migrant deal.

In Lesbos, more than 19,000 asylum seekers are sheltering in a reception centre at Moria, built to hold about 3,000 people.

However a wave of anti-migrant violence by the authorities and far-right mobs has left the camp short of food and medical care and with many of its vital services subject to closure. Some parts of the camp, including food stores and a volunteer-run school, were destroyed in fires.

The illegal deportations are part of a series of hardline measures imposed by the Greek government to attempt to curb the influx of migrants and refugees, including sending special forces to the border who have fired live bullets at refugees.

Greece's health ministry on Monday reported 11 new coronavirus cases but did not mention Lesbos. A total of 89 cases have been reported so far in the country.

Greece has banned public gatherings, closed several schools and universities and ordered professional sports events to be held behind closed doors for 15 days beginning Monday.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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