Anti-racism, Covid-19, Greece, Immigration

Statement from Greek anti-racists: Protect refugees from coronavirus

KEERFA, the Movement United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat in Greece, has issued the statement below calling on the government to immediately transfer refugees and asylum seekers to safety in order to prevent a major health emergency in the detention camps.

Protesters in Greece carry signs reading “close down the concentration camps”

‣ Measures to protect refugees now!

‣ Shut down the concentration camps on the islands and the mainland immediately, to prevent the spread of coronavirus and limit the number of infections!

The overcrowding and miserable living conditions at refugee camps in the Greek islands are ideal conditions for the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, Doctors Without Borders warned in a recent statement. People’s health is in danger as long as they stay in these camps. The coronavirus is just the latest threat asylum seekers face, and their conditions makes them even more vulnerable than the rest of the population to an epidemic.

The need to evacuate camps in the Greek islands is now more urgent than ever. Forcing people to live in these conditions as part of a European policy has always been irresponsible, but now it is also on the verge of becoming criminal if no measures are taken to protect people. Doctors Without Borders says that the Greek government must act as quickly as possible and move the majority of the 42,000 people to suitable housing before it is too late. 

Unfortunately this is not only the case on the islands, but also for thousands of people trapped in refugees camps on the Attica peninsula and in camps in the northern part of the country. It is truly criminal, in the midst of a pandemic, for the Greek government and the Ministry of Health not to take necessary emergency precautions, but to instead neglect the thousands of people stuck in these concentration camps, who have been left without medical coverage or direct access to public health services and hospitals.

This is the same government that is talking about privatizing healthcare, and that has hired more uniformed police to throw teargas at women and children in Mytilene on the island of Lesvos (home to the Moria camp) instead of doctors and nurses for ICUs. And they dare to talk about “individual responsibility.” A strong national health system could actually protect us from the pandemic, but the policies of austerity and cuts the last few years have literally dismantled it, and the ruling party New Democracy continues through this pandemic with the very same policy.

Don’t let those who sacrifice the healthcare system on the altar of profits spew another racist lie in the name of the “public health.” It is a matter of time for the outbreak to spread through the refugee camps. Vulnerable people escaping war, the army, border guards and Frontex (the EU’s border control agency) are being isolated and deprived of proper medical care and facilities — during a pandemic!

It is outrageous that they are wasting millions on hiring border guards to close the border to Evros (the river between Greece and Turkey) and push refugee boats to the islands — when more doctors and nurses are not being hired to protect the public health system, which is poor peoples’ only shield against the coronavirus.

In this pandemic, bosses and immigrants, we are not the same. If you have money and Greek citizenship, for €150 you can go to a private hospital for a coronavirus test and be admitted to a large private clinic. But for asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees, it is impossible to maintain even the most rudimentary protections, such as frequent hand washing, good indoor ventilation, or avoiding overcrowding.

Indoor spaces are not cleaned with disinfectants and special cleaning products. On the contrary, in most camps there are still dozens of families living in tents (!), without being able to enrol in housing, social support, and welfare programs. Families often share public toilets that are rarely cleaned by professional staff. In many cases non-profits (!) are called upon to do the cleaning work, thereby exposing themselves to great health risks as well. In fact, non-profit workers themselves are required to work in the same miserable conditions that refugees face on a daily basis.

Finally, the under-staffed medical teams in the camps, despite the enormous effort they have made in recent months, are unable to meet these dire health needs. Seamless 24-hour telephone communication with the National Public Health Organization (the Greek equivalent of the CDC) as recommended by the Ministry of Health is obviously impossible for people stuck in these camps.

Public health is not an individual responsibility, it is a social responsibility that states must address. Above all, health should not be a privilege granted to the few. To save our public health system, to put the lives of locals and immigrants above profits, we demand:

  • Immediate movement of unregistered asylum seekers into apartments where basic hygiene rules can be observed. Shut down the shameful detention camps and transfer refugees to homes, cities, and hospitals nearby
  • Grant all asylum seekers access to national healthcare for complete, unconditional medical treatment
  • Full, free public coverage of the cost of the coronavirus test and any other necessary medical exams
  • Interpreters in hospitals, medical centers and on the National Public Health Organization telephone lines
  • Care and support for non-profit and government employees who work in the camps
  • No to the flexible “working relationships” that currently exist for non-profit workers. Full pay for those forced to work from home — with no vacation leave fees. Ensuring a safe work environment is the employer’s responsibility
  • Money for hospitals, treatments, medical supplies, and sanitary wear
  • Massive recruitment and staffing of local healthcare authorities and all public services
  • Recruit more permanent public transit staff and allocate greater funds to the sector to increase the frequency of services

KEERFA — Movement United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat

Refugee workers

Committees of refugees from the camps

Translated from Greek by Iannis Delatolas

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