You know how it feels when you get to a roundabout on an unfamiliar road and end up circling for ages, trying to decide which exit is the correct one? Now imagine there’s a car hot on your heels, and you have to drive as fast as possible — while going nowhere — and while trying to make the right decisions for the people in the car with you. Oh — and turns out there are road blocks on each of the exits, too.
Pretty stressful, right? We hear you. But for those refugees seeking safety from war, conflict, and violence at the borders of Europe, it’s a fairly apt metaphor for life right now. Except for them, the speeding car is coronavirus, and the never-ending roundabout represents the five Greek islands where about 40,000 refugees are being held as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed. Having fled violence in their home countries, they can’t go back — but they can’t move forward, either, as many government offices have temporarily closed their doors, and their borders, to deal with coronavirus.
Being stuck in limbo is bad during the best of times, but during a global pandemic, it could be a death sentence. It’s way past time to evacuate these dangerously overcrowded refugee camps off the coast of Greece.
Overcrowding Was a Problem BEFORE Coronavirus
Back in August of 2019 — way before any of us had heard of this thing called the novel coronavirus — a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called the centres used to house refugees on the Greek islands of Chios, Kos, Samos, Lesbos, and Leros “squalid, inadequate, and rapidly deteriorating.” As of today, in Lesbos’ Camp Moria alone, nearly 20,000 people live in a camp built to accommodate only 2,800. About 7,000 of these are children, many of them without parents or guardians to take care of them. That’s never OK — but in the time of COVID-19, the consequences could be lethal.
Social Distancing and Proper Sanitation Are Impossible
Inside Moria, there’s one water tap for every 1,300 people, one toilet for every 167 people, and one shower for every 242 people. It’s impossible to practice social distancing when you’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for food, or for your chance to use the facilities (which may or may not have soap and running water, depending on the day). Sleeping accommodations are just as suffocatingly close.
People Are Still Arriving
Coronavirus Is a Huge Risk
Camps largely went into lockdown mode in March to try to contain the spread of the virus, but as of May 15, four people on the Greek island of Lesbos had tested positive. Medical facilities were already ill-equipped to deal with the number of people on the islands — an outbreak would be devastating, according to medical professionals trying to control its spread.
It’s Time to Get People Out
Here in Germany, we offered to resettle up to 500 children from the Greek camps before the pandemic hit, citing a “mutual responsibility” to take care of those who need it most. The first group of 47 unaccompanied children arrived in April, but many, many more are still stuck in the camps. That’s why Ben & Jerry’s is standing with SEEBRÜCKE and others to demand that the Berlin government develop and implement a state reception programme to take in vulnerable refugees from the Greek camps as soon as possible. Citing the “inhumane living conditions” and high risk of infection by COVID-19, the letter calls on Germany’s government to act quickly and decisively to help families, children, single mothers, the chronically ill, the elderly, and those who are traumatized to get out as soon as possible.
How You Can Help
Things are pretty grim out there. But we believe that when people come together, it’s possible to change the world. We can only guess at the talent, ingenuity, and goodness currently trapped in the Greek islands, and while we can’t wait to see what these newcomers to our country can do, given the opportunity, we’re first and foremost concerned with keeping them safe. Sign the petition to #LeaveNoOneBehind and to give all people a chance at a safe, healthy life. Please join us!