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Migrants on Lesbos face desperate plight

  • Published at 12:00 pm September 19th, 2020
Moria refugee camp
Refugees and migrants who were sheltered near the destroyed Moria camp, carry their belongings as they prepare to move to a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos on September 18, 2020 Reuters

As they were admitted to the new temporary camp, 174 people tested positive for Covid-19 but were asymptomatic

The coronavirus pandemic is far from the minds of homeless migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos who are facing extreme hunger, dehydration, exhaustion and myriad illnesses, an aid worker has warned.

Nearly 13,000 people, including thousands of children, were left homeless after Europe's largest camp for asylum-seekers was destroyed by fire this month.

Those living in the notoriously overcrowded and unsanitary Moria camp were already facing violence, theft and difficult living conditions during their time there, said Francisca Bohle-Carbonell, in charge of medical activities for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Lesbos.

Since the fires on the night of September 8, "the needs are the same as before: people are suffering, they don't have enough food, there is not enough water, they sleep outside", she told AFP.

While more than half of the migrants have been moved since Thursday to a temporary new camp hastily built on the island, thousands continue to sleep by roads, in car parks and even inside a local cemetery.

That makes them even more vulnerable as they are far from the radar of NGOs that were equipped to care for the sickest, Bohle-Carbonell said.

"Many people have lost their medication, so there is no way at all to stabilize conditions that were already serious before. Now it's even worse because you can't even follow up," she said.

'Bad to worse' 

The organization has put in place "a team of health workers who walk the streets to really look for patients" and when they manage to find them, "you don't have to be a doctor or a nurse to see that it's going to be even worse" now they are on the streets, she says.

As they were admitted to the new temporary camp, 174 people tested positive for coronavirus but were asymptomatic, according to humanitarian workers.

Under the tents set up by the government and the United Nations, which are designed to hold 8,000 people, two quarantine zones have been set up.

But for the migrants, the pandemic is not a priority as more urgent situations take hold, Bohle-Carbonell said. Many children have severe diarrhoea, and several pregnant women have miscarried.

Health workers fear a scabies outbreak is imminent.

"Panic attacks now are stronger, more intense, longer, harder to calm. Everything is going from bad to worse," she said.

Many asylum-seekers have told AFP that they are wary of entering the new camp, or are doing so out of necessity.

The UN refugee agency on Friday warned Greece that the new camp can only be temporary "as an emergency shelter facility."

Six young Afghans have been arrested in connection with the fire, while the camp's destruction has strengthened calls for the migrants to be moved off the island, from both local residents and humanitarian organizations.