Refugees in Europe: human dignity is not in quarantine

COMECE calls EU members states to show generosity in accepting the relocation of asylum seekers from Greek islands, minimising the risk of Covid-19 infection among them and providing adequate health treatment to those already infected.

(Credit: Vatican News)

“We are in our homes, afraid. I also think of the most vulnerable: how it must feel for those who are in refugee camps, who have nothing, not even medicine for the seasonal flue”, said H. Em. Card. Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, President of COMECE and Archbishop of Luxembourg, during a recent interview.

The COVID-19 pandemic is strongly impacting societies from across the world, but it shows its darkest face when it comes to vulnerable population, among them refugees who are living in overcrowded centers and settlements, with limited or even no access to adequate health services.
The EU Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDPC) warns that vulnerable individuals including undocumented migrants will require extra support. In this respect, “authorities may want to consider coordinating with and supporting civil society and religious groups who already work with these populations”, said the CDPC.

Considering the lethal consequences that a COVID-19 outbreak would have in a refugee camp, OHCHR, IOM, UNHCR and WHO, as well as Caritas Europa, welcomed the relocation of 12 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children organized by the EU and the Greek authorities from Greece to Luxembourg, and call for further release of the remaining migrant children and their families and those detained without a sufficient legal basis. Germany will also relocate 50 children in the upcoming days.

COMECE reiterates the need to relocate asylum seekers from the Greek islands because the situation there is particularly dramatic: around 20,000 people are settled in Moira camp, on the island of Lesbos, whose facilities are designed to accommodate only 3,000 asylum seekers.

Moreover, as highlighted in a recent report, the population density of the Moira camp – on the Greek island of Lesbos – is more elevated than the infection rate on a cruise ship, posing major challenges in efforts to protect asylum seekers from the disease.

The dramatic situation on the Greek islands is also due to the recent adoption of a controversial emergency decree suspending asylum procedures for one month.

Following the suspension of the right to asylum in Greece and the limitations in other EU countries, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and the Council of Europe Special Representative on Migration and Refugees reminded, among other things, that States’ measures to manage risks to public health in case of a pandemic may not prevent people from seeking asylum (Articles 3 (b), 4 and 7.1 of the Schengen Borders Code).

COMECE recalls the importance of respecting international legal obligations of asylum seekers and their families and encourages EU member states to show solidarity towards them, in particular in this context of the coronavirus pandemic.