Greece extends migrant camp lockdown despite criticism

Greece extends migrant camp lockdown despite criticism
Greece has faced backlash after it extended a migrant camp lockdown.
3 min read
The migrant camp lockdown has been extended [Getty]

Greece on Saturday announced another extension of a coronavirus lockdown in its teeming migrant camps, despite allegations that it has used the coronavirus pandemic to limit the movement of migrants.

The camp lockdown began on March 21 and is now extended until July 19, the migration ministry said.

Migrants are allowed to leave the camps from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm only in groups of less than 10 and no more than 150 people per hour, it said.

Migrants are frustrated with the fifth extension of the lockdown in camps, saying it makes their lives even more difficult.

"I really don't have an idea why they are doing this. I feel so bad, so down because of it," Hamoudi, an asylum-seeker from Somalia and resident of the Vial camp on Chios island, told AFP.

The 24-year-old said he saw no social distancing in the camp and could not think of any health benefits of the lockdown for the migrants.

"Maybe they just want to make it a closed camp," he said. "But closed for what?"

The camp lockdown has stopped most NGOs from carrying out normal deliveries of clothing, nappies and other necessities.

"We can't get adequate aid to people. They are messaging us from inside the camp," said Ruhi Akhtar, a volunteer on Chios who regularly gave out clothes and other provisions before the lockdown.

Parwana Ansari, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan who lives in the Vial refugee camp, said people needed to leave the camp just to get the basics.

"We need to go to town to go shopping," she said. "The food in Vial is no good."

- 'As invisible as possible' -
Marco Sandrone, coordinator of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, said before the announcement that the lockdowns had nothing to do with public health as there were no cases in the camps.

Greece, with 192 coronavirus deaths, has so far not been as badly hit as many other European countries -- and there have been no deaths in the migrant camps.

But the presence of more than 32,000 asylum seekers on the five Aegean islands -- in camps with a capacity of 5,400 -- has caused major friction with local communities.

The government is transferring thousands of migrants to the mainland, as the country has started letting in foreign visitors for the tourist season.

Some NGOs and volunteers have argued that the lockdown extension is linked to Greece's tourist season.

"They try to make the refugees as invisible as possible, and think that then the tourists would love to come," said Jenny Kalipozi, a Chios island local and volunteer who often brought aid to the Vial refugee camp.

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