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Greece quarantines camp as 20 refugees test positive for COVID-19

Athens, Greece – Greece has quarantined a refugee camp in the mainland, home to 2,300 people, for at least two weeks after 20 residents tested positive for COVID-19. Greece’s Ministry of Migration announced on Thursday that movement from the Ritsona camp will be heavily restricted and monitored by police. More:  Growing calls to evacuate Greek refugee…

Greece quarantines camp as 20 refugees test positive for COVID-19

Athens, Greece – Greece has quarantined a refugee camp in the mainland, home to 2,300 people, for at least two weeks after 20 residents tested positive for COVID-19.
Greece’s Ministry of Migration announced on Thursday that movement from the Ritsona camp will be heavily restricted and monitored by police.
More: 

Growing calls to evacuate Greek refugee camps amid virus threat

Time is running out to protect refugees from a coronavirus crisis

Refugees in Greece at severe risk due to dire living conditions

All of those who tested positive showed no symptons, the ministry said.
The measures came as authorities tested dozens of people in the camp after a woman, who had been living there, was found to have the infection as she gave birth in a nearby hospital last week – the first recorded case of a refugee contracting COVID-19.
Health officials are currently investigating the source of the infection, and are testing more camp residents to establish how many have the virus.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), one of the official actors in Ritsona which will continue to have a presence during the quarantine, was attempting to protect the site located some 70 kilometres (43 miles) north of the capital, Athens, from a more serious outbreak.
An IOM spokesperson told Al Jazeera they would begin to distribute food baskets and hygiene kits to camp residents, adding that people would continue to have access to medicine.
The spokesperson added that there would be a heightened police presence around the camp to ensure the lockdown measures were adhered to.
The cases come amid growing calls from NGOs, doctors and academics for the European Union to evacuate refugee camps during the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands in Greece live in packed and squalid camps, and are therefore at high risk.
Kayvan Bozorgmehr, a doctor and professor from the School of Public Health at Bielefeld University in Germany, told Al Jazeera the conditions in Greek refugee camps were potential hotspots for the virus to spread.
“Refugees in camps are at high risk of acquiring infectious diseases due to crowded conditions with poor hygiene and sanitation,” said Bozorgmehr, who is among the academics calling for the evacuation of Moria, Greece’s notoriously overcrowded camp on Lesbos island.
“It is very likely that refugees will become infected with the … virus in host communities or in hospitals. An uncontrolled spread in camp contexts, such as those on the Greek islands, may lead to a public health disaster as measures of social distancing and quarantine are impossible in these settings.” 
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on Lesbos island three weeks ago, affecting a Greek national.
As yet, there are no confirmed cases in Moria, which hosts nearly 20,000 people in a space designed for just below 3,000.

The gates of the Ritsona camp, where the woman who has COVID-19 was living before she gave birth in a nearby hospital [Screengrab from Reuters]

Parwana Amiri, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan living in Ritsona, has been raising awareness among the camp residents in anticipation of an outbreak.
“Refugees have to know how to protect themselves against the virus,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that everyone she knew was worried.
“As young people, we have the most important role in the family.”
Amiri encourages others her age to talk to their family members about the best way to wash hands to prevent transmission.
“This virus does not have any borders and treats all equally,” she said. “While you stay at home, we have to stay in the camp where there is no guarantee of health safety.”
In response to calls to decongest the islands, Greece’s Ministry of Migration has offered a series of what they say are preventive measures.
These include effective lockdowns of the island camps and in Moria, only 100 people an hour are permitted to leave. Any remaining NGOs have to submit a list of staff who will be working in the camp.
Mainland camps such as Ritsona were already subject to measures in line with the rest of the country’s population.
For instance, everyone in Greece must now provide a form detailing one of six reasons to be outside, and carry identification.
As of Wednesday evening, Greece had 1,415 confirmed cases of the virus and a total of 50 deaths.
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Greece: Police move refugees to new Lesbos camp after Moria fire |NationalTribune.com

Names marked with an asterisk* have been changed to protect identities. Police on the Greek island of Lesbos have launched an operation to rehouse thousands of refugees and migrants who have been sleeping rough after their camp was destroyed by fire. Officers on Thursday morning woke people in their tents to take them to a…

Greece: Police move refugees to new Lesbos camp after Moria fire |NationalTribune.com

Names marked with an asterisk* have been changed to protect identities.
Police on the Greek island of Lesbos have launched an operation to rehouse thousands of refugees and migrants who have been sleeping rough after their camp was destroyed by fire.
Officers on Thursday morning woke people in their tents to take them to a temporary centre that was hastily set up after Europe’s largest camp for asylum seekers at Moria burned down last week.   
The new Kara Tepe camp, near the island’s main town Mytilene, was made on a former military firing range and is close to the remains of the Moria site.
But many have refused to go, fearing living conditions would be as bad or worse than at Moria, which was notoriously unsafe, and worried they would be left waiting for months to have their requests for asylum processed and transferred to the Greek mainland or another European country.
Riot police and police vans were parked on either side of a street where thousands who fled the Moria camp have been living.
Quietly, with the sounds of children crying and under an already hot sun, people folded their blankets, picked up bags containing whatever belongings they had saved from the fire and dismantled their tents.   

More than 12,000 people including entire families with elderly people and newborns were left homeless when fire tore through the overcrowded and unsanitary Moria camp [Elias Marcou/Reuters]

Women and children with bundles on their backs were seen gathering by a barricade police had set up on the road.
Some mothers pushed their babies in prams up the road as other refugees took shelter from the morning sun in the shade of a large building, or washed with water bottles on the roadside.
“The aim is to safeguard public health,” police spokesman Theodoros Chronopoulos told AFP news agency, confirming that “an operation is under way” which “responds to humanitarian aims.”
But Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which opened an emergency clinic in the area, said it was barred from accessing its facility during the night, as rumours of the police operation spread.
“A police operation is under way to take refugees to the new camp. This should not prevent medical aid,” MSF complained on Twitter.
More than 12,000 people including entire families with elderly and newborns were left homeless when fire tore through the overcrowded and unsanitary Moria camp – built five years ago at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis – on the night of September 8.
Thousands have been sleeping under tarpaulins or tents at roadsides and in the car parks of closed supermarkets since the blaze.     
Late Wednesday, around 1,000 tents, each able to accommodate between eight and 10 people, had been erected at the new site.

The UN refugee agency has urged Greece to speed up asylum processes on Lesbos [Elias Marcou/Reuters]

The atmosphere on Thursday morning was calm, with people exhausted from spending a week on the street. Families collected their belongings, some pushing them in large bins or supermarket trolleys, in preparation for the move.
At the start of the operation, single men were not allowed to enter the new camp.
Farhad*, is 20 and alone in Greece, having fled war in Afghanistan.
Even if he was allowed in, he told Al Jazeera he does not want to enter Kara Tepe.
“I’ve been in Moria for nine months and again, if we enter the camp, [maybe] it will be for a year, too. I’m losing my youth just waiting.”
Other families have accepted their new reality.
“We hear there is food and water there,” said Abdul*, who has five children.
His family is tired of living on the street waiting for help that never seems to arrive and believes there is no other option.
Six young Afghans have been arrested in connection with the incident, with four of them brought before a Lesbos magistrate on Wednesday.

A general view of the temporary camp for refugees and migrants near Mytilene town, on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece, on September 13 [Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press]

Medical tents were to be set up, and two quarantine zones were planned for the several dozen people who have tested positive for coronavirus.
“We have seen a lot of people come in hazmat suits trying to talk to people, to convince them to go to the camps. People are moving. Not everyone is moving, but people are moving,” said Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Lesbos. 
“A lot of people we have been speaking to this morning still don’t want to go. They say they are hearing the situation is bad, they are are going to be stuck in there, there are calling it a jail.
“Certainly the message from the authorities is that they have to move to the camp, and if they are not going to do so willingly … they will use the police to move people forcefully.”
The Greek migration ministry said on Tuesday that around 1,200 people had entered the new camp.
Aid groups said a few hundred more arrived on Wednesday, forced by exhaustion after sleeping rough under a hot sun for a week.
The UN refugee agency has urged Greece to speed up asylum processes on Lesbos.
“The idea is not that people remain forever on the island of Lesbos, but that processes are accelerated so that people can leave gradually and in an orderly way” to the capital Athens or elsewhere on the mainland, the UN agency’s chief in Greece Philippe Leclerc told reporters.
Meanwhile, anger is growing among local Lesbos residents, who complain overcrowding on the island is affecting its tourism possibilities.
“We have two human dramas here. Unfortunately, it is the drama of the migrants living here that is constantly talked about, and never the locals who have gone through a very hard time, since 2015, and are very frustrated. These people should be put in a controlled camp and far away from the local population,” Moria village resident Stratis Kokkinellis told Al Jazeera.
Greece’s police minister Michalis Chrysochoidis this week said that half the refugees and migrants on Lesbos should be able to leave by Christmas and “the rest by Easter”.
With reporting by Katy Fallon in Lesbos.
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East Med: Greece ratifies deal with Egypt; Turkey to hold drills |NationalTribune.com

Greece has ratified an accord on maritime boundaries with Egypt, hours after Turkey extended the operation of a seismic survey vessel in the Eastern Mediterranean and said it will hold firing exercises in the region next week. The Athens-Cairo agreement is seen as a response to a Turkish-Libyan accord signed in 2019 allowing Turkey access…

East Med: Greece ratifies deal with Egypt; Turkey to hold drills |NationalTribune.com

Greece has ratified an accord on maritime boundaries with Egypt, hours after Turkey extended the operation of a seismic survey vessel in the Eastern Mediterranean and said it will hold firing exercises in the region next week.
The Athens-Cairo agreement is seen as a response to a Turkish-Libyan accord signed in 2019 allowing Turkey access to areas in the region where large hydrocarbon deposits have been discovered.
Under their treaty, Egypt and Greece are now allowed to seek maximum benefit from the resources available in an exclusive economic zone, including oil and gas reserves.
A similar accord between Italy and Greece was approved on Wednesday.
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas on Thursday said “their ratification is urgent” given “Turkey’s illegal activities”.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament another bill will extend Greece’s coastal zone in the Ionian Sea from six (about 11km) to 12 nautical miles (22km) under international maritime conventions.

Will Greece and Turkey fight over energy?

Turkey and Greece – both NATO allies – are at odds over the rights to potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean area, based on conflicting claims over the extent of their continental shelves.
Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo.
Turkey has said the pact infringes on its own continental shelf. The agreement also overlaps with maritime zones Turkey agreed to with Libya last year, decried as illegal by Greece.
Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos, reporting from Athens, said “Greece got what it wanted legally and diplomatically” following the maritime accord with Egypt.
“It has the backing of Europe, it has the agreement in legal terms with Egypt, a very good agreement in legal terms with Italy,” he said.
“Greece now feels to be in a position of legal strength to demand that Turkey agrees to have talks on the basis of international maritime law.”
Sinem Koseoglu, Al Jazeera correspondent in Istanbul, however, said it is unlikely that Turkey will “come to a negotiating table” over the eastern Mediterranean crisis.
She added that the Greece-Egypt deal means the “military tensions are going to rise” in the region. “But will it turn into a conflict? This is still a question mark,” she said.
‘Gunnery exercises’
Earlier on Thursday, the Turkish navy issued the latest advisory, known as a Navtex, saying it will hold “gunnery exercises” in the Eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Iskenderun, northeast of Cyprus on September 1 and 2.
It also extended the seismic work of the Oruc Reis vessel southwest of Cyprus, until September 1.
Greece says the Turkish advisories are illegal.
Maritime zones give a state rights over natural resources. Largely unexplored, the Eastern Mediterranean is thought to be rich in natural gas.
As the dispute widened, France said on Wednesday it was joining military exercises with Italy, Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the deployment of French military aircraft in Cyprus violated treaties regarding the control and administration of the island after independence from Britain in 1960.
Aksoy said France’s stance was dangerously encouraging Greece and Cyprus to further escalate tensions in the region.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 following a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.
Turkey recognises the Turkish-populated north of Cyprus as a separate state, which is not recognised by other countries.
Greece said on Wednesday it plans to extend its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to 12 nautical miles (22km) from its coast, from six nautical miles, after the ratification of a maritime deal with Italy.
To the east of Greece, Turkey has warned that a similar move by Athens in waters east of Greece would be a cause for war.
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