Specialists warn: A time bomb is ticking in the camps. Because now the corona epidemic is evoking new dangers. In two refugee camps north of Athens, 28 residents have already tested positive. The camps are now under quarantine.
There are still no known cases of infection in the island camps, but the fear of the virus is widespread in the camps. Many residents wear masks. The recommendation to keep away sounds like a mockery to the people who are crammed together in the accommodations in a confined space.
Even washing your hands is a problem: “In some parts of the Moria camp, 1,300 people have to share access to water at a tap, and there is no soap,” reports the aid organization Doctors Without Borders.
Experts fear that it will only be a matter of time before the epidemic spreads to the island camps. Florian Westphal, Managing Director of Doctors Without Borders in Germany, says there are about 600 particularly vulnerable camp residents in Lesbos and Samos alone: older people and those with previous illnesses, but also sick children. The aid organization demands: “We need an emergency evacuation of all refugees from the Covid 19 high-risk group before the virus reaches the camps.”
Around 100,000 migrants currently live in Greece. They have been stuck there since the Balkans closed their borders in February 2015. Nobody knows exactly the number of children and young people traveling alone who have been stranded in Greece. It is estimated to be more than 5,100, of which around 500 are under the age of 14. Some set off alone as orphans, others lost their parents and siblings in the confusion of flight.
According to a survey by the National Center for Social Solidarity (Ekka), which is subordinate to the Greek Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, only 1836 unaccompanied minors are cared for in suitable accommodation on the mainland. The others live in camps or are completely on their own.
The age-appropriate accommodation and care of unaccompanied minors is expensive and personnel-intensive. “You have to put them in small groups of no more than 25 children,” explains Giorgos Protopapas, director of SOS Children’s Villages in Greece.
The international organization has decades of experience in dealing with orphans and children from broken families. “Many of these children and adolescents are deeply traumatized. Psychologists, doctors, educators and interpreters are needed around the clock to look after them,” Protopapas explains.
800 unaccompanied children live on the streets
The head of the SOS Children’s Villages estimates that around 800 unaccompanied children and adolescents in Greece “live on the street” and try to make ends meet, often with prostitution and drug trafficking.
Gavriil Sakellaridis, Greece director of Amnesty International, cites an even higher number: “Around 1200 unaccompanied migrants under the age of 18 have simply disappeared from the focus of the authorities and are very likely to be exposed to serious risks without protection,” says Sakellaridis.
Almost 1,700 minors live without relatives in the five camps on the East Aegean islands. Above all, it is about the relocations that are starting now. The conditions in the five hot spots on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Kos, Chios and Leros are catastrophic.
The accommodations are designed for less than 8000 people. In fact, 39,429 migrants are penned up there, according to official statistics from mid-week. Because there is no more space in the living containers, an estimated 30,000 people, including many families with young children, live in camping tents or crates that they have made of slats, cardboard and plastic sheeting themselves.
The worst is the situation on Samos, where the Vathy camp with 6932 inhabitants is more than tenfold overcrowded. For example, 22 underage girls live here in a residential container that is only intended for five people.
Not enough couches for the camp residents
Because there are not enough beds, the girls have to try to sleep alternately. On the notorious Camp Moria on the island of Lesbos, 18 804 people live in accommodations that are designed for 2757 people.
Moria has made headlines as “Shame on Europe”. Residents speak of the camp as “hell”. The aid organization Human Rights Watch has documented the fate of young people in Moria. “Everything is dangerous here: the cold, the tent in which I sleep, the fights – I don’t feel safe,” says 14-year-old Afghan Rachid.
The 15-year-old Ali says that when he arrived in Moria he was given a sleeping bag and told him: “Find a place to sleep outside.” The same happened to the 16-year-old Samir: “You gave me a blanket, a used T -Shirt and a small mat and told me to look for a place outside. “The frustration of the young people is increasingly escalating into aggression: On Wednesday a 20-year-old Afghan stabbed a 16-year-old boy in an argument in Moria.
He was shocked when he visited Camp Moria, reports Christos Christou, president of the aid organization Doctors Without Borders. A third of the camp residents are under the age of 18. “These children and young people have lost their appetite for life, they don’t speak, they don’t play.”
The situation in Moria is “comparable to what we see after natural disasters or in war zones”. It is outrageous to see these conditions in Europe and to know that they “are not the result of a disaster, but the result of targeted political decisions,” says Christou.
The Greek government is trying to relieve the overcrowded island camps. Around 11,000 people have been relocated from the islands to the mainland since the beginning of the year. But most of the accommodations there are now too busy.
Greece has been demanding for years that the other EU countries take over part of the asylum procedures. The EU has been discussing a reform of the European asylum system since 2015. The aim is to relieve the countries of first arrival and to distribute the asylum procedures to all member states. But the reform is still a long time coming, mainly because some Eastern European countries refuse to accept refugees at all.
More: The admission of refugee children is a question of decency: after Germany, other EU countries should also get their way.