In mid-March, Greece announced that its plans to transform the hotspots on Leros and Kos into closed reception centres would be accelerated and that all visits to hotspots would be suspended in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, national and international organisations subsequently issued urgent calls to reduce overcrowding in hotspots, including Médecins Sans Frontières and the European Parliament, which called for the evacuation of all the migrant camps on the islands.
By the end of March, the government began transferring thousands of new arrivals, including children and people with disabilities, to detention centres on the Greek mainland. Human Rights Watch denounced the move: “If the government is serious about preventing COVID-19 transmission and illness among migrants and asylum seekers, it needs to scale up testing, provide more tents, and give people enough toilets, water, and soap, and put in place prevention interventions. … Forcing people, some of whom are at high risk of severe disease or death, to live in dirty and unsanitary conditions, cramped together in close quarters, is a recipe for spreading the virus, not to mention is degrading and inhumane.”
On 25 March ECRE published an open letter, signed by 121 organisations, requesting that “alternatives to detention” for all administrative detainees throughout Greece be implemented; measures to protect public health are taken to protect those residing in camps, camp employees, and society at large; and measures are taken to ensure that people are still able to apply for asylum before the Greek Asylum Service.
By early April, various migrant sites were being placed under quarantine as a result of outbreaks, including the Malakasa and Ritsona facilities. In Malakasa, a 53 year old man tested positive on 5 April 2020 and was transferred to hospital in Athens. In the Ritsona camp, 20 people tested positive for Covid-19 during the week of 30 March 2020.
Within penal institutions, the government announced plans to release up to 1,500 inmates to lessen the chances of transmission of the coronavirus. Prisoners sentenced for minor offences who have up to a year of their terms left would be released.
- R. Maltezou, “Greece Quarantines Second Migrant Camp after Covid-19 Case Confirmed”, 5 April 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-greece-camp/greece-quarantines-second-migrant-camp-after-covid-19-case-confirmed-idUSKBN21N06B
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Greece,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/greece
- Y. Souliotis, “Plan for Early Release of Inmates to Curb Virus Risk,” Ekathimerini, 26 March 2020, http://www.ekathimerini.com/251010/article/ekathimerini/news/plan-for-early-release-of-inmates-to-curb-virus-risk
- ECRE, “Protect the Most Vulnerable to Ensure Protection for Everyone!” 25 March 2020, https://www.ecre.org/protect-the-most-vulnerable-to-ensure-protection-for-everyone/
- Reuters, “MSF Urges Greece to Evacuate Migrant Camps Due to Coronavirus Risk,” 13 March 2020, https://reut.rs/3bvda1j
- J. Rankin and H. Smith, “EU Urged to Evacuate Asylum Seekers From Cramped Greek Island Camps,” The Guardian, 24 March 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/eu-urged-to-evacuate-asylum-seekers-from-cramped-greek-island-camps-coronavirus
- ELENA, “ELENA Weekly Legal Update,” 20 March 2020, https://mailchi.mp/ecre/elena-weekly-legal-update-20-march-2020?e=a95f4356a0