Palestinian Refugees Raise Concerns over Their Fate as Greece Decides to Close Off Migrant Camps

Palestinian Refugees Raise Concerns over Their Fate as Greece Decides to Close Off Migrant Camps

Moria has some 20,000 migrants and asylum seekers. It is designed for 3,000 (Photo: Save the Children)

Palestinian refugees seeking humanitarian asylum on Greek islands, after they fled the war and economic hardship in the MENA region, have expressed deep concern over their condition after the Greek government announced its decision to shut down migrant camps.

Greece has said it is placing migrant camps across the country on a two-week shutdown to visitors to ward off the new coronavirus.

“Visits (to camps) by individuals and organizations are suspended for at least 14 days,” the migration ministry said in a statement last week.

“Entry will be allowed only to staff and there will be a compulsory temperature check for new arrivals,” it said, adding that residents would be encouraged to limit their movements in and out of the camps.

Greece has progressively tightened restrictions on trade and public gatherings, and the national death toll from the virus now stands at five with over 390 cases.

There are tens of thousands of asylum seekers in camps on the Greek mainland and islands near Turkey, and most of them are badly overcrowded.

Hundreds more arrived this month after Turkey announced it would no longer stop people from attempting to reach the EU — going against a deal reached with the bloc in 2016 — leading to days of chaos at the Greek border.

In a statement to mark four years since the deal, the Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam said “suffering has reached unimaginable levels”.

“Nothing can justify the indiscriminate detention of people seeking asylum, and Greece should not deny them a safe place during the current health crisis, nor send them back to situations where their lives and freedom are at risk,” they said in a joint statement.

Oxfam migration expert Raphael Shilhav said: “While the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis is creating many uncertainties about the future, it is crucial that governments continue to protect the most vulnerable and keep to their promise to offer children safe conditions at this time.”

A number of migrants have told Turkish authorities and rights groups that they were stripped and beaten by armed men on the Greek side of the border.

Athens has consistently denied using undue force in guarding its borders.

Human Rights Watch said it had spoken to 21 asylum seekers who told the group: “Greek security forces and unidentified armed men (had) detained, assaulted, sexually assaulted, robbed, and stripped asylum seekers and migrants, then forced them back to Turkey.”

The group also criticized a decision by Athens to suspend new asylum applications until April and summarily deport those arriving in this month’s surge.

Thousands of Palestinian refugees have been taking shelter on Greek islands, to which they fled onboard migrant “death boats”.

This week, the Greek government has imposed a curfew on refugees and migrants in the overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, as part of its response against the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures come as Athens bans large public gatherings and demands social distancing to curb the spread of Covid-19, a highly-contagious virus with no known cure.

But in Moria, where some 20,000 people are already stuck in a camp designed for 3,000, the move comes amid heightened fears of an unabated outbreak.

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