“A breeding ground for such a viral situation”

A girl in the refugee camp near Moria on Lesbos © Angelos Tzortzinis

Caritas International worries about the helpers on Lesbos who take care of the refugees in the camps around Moria. Too many people in too small a space. If the coronavirus spreads to the camps, this would have fatal consequences for the people.

Interviewer: What would it mean if the coronavirus spread to the refugee camp?

Gernot Kraub (Greece desk officer at Caritas International): There are a lot of people there in a very small space, in the most difficult hygienic situations and conditions. It would indeed be fatal if the virus were to spread to the camps, because it is simply not possible to make a separation there. Here in Germany, you can see the precautions at the workplace or in restaurants, where distance is maintained everywhere. Such separation is not at all conceivable in such a situation as prevails there. This is a considerable risk if the corona virus were to spread to the camps.

Interviewer: The Moria camp on Lesbos is actually designed for just under 3,000 people.000 people laid out. More than 19.000 people living there. You can hardly imagine that. What is the current situation??

Kraub: The whole thing is really an unspeakable situation, as it has been going on for many months, that’s actually nothing new. It has now come to a head again, because even more have arrived in the past few weeks.

You have to imagine that there is a camp where there are containers, where there are also paved roads and also electricity and water are available. But around the olive grove, which is a hilly area, there are wild settlements and shelters. Tents, where there is just no water supply and disposal, no electricity and no security. It’s kind of a breeding ground for such a virus situation and such a threat as we have now. That would be very difficult indeed.

Interviewer: The refugee drama has disappeared from the headlines because of the coronavirus pandemic. What does that mean for the people who are stuck there and the helpers??

Kraub: This is actually a real drama, because the whole situation on the Aegean islands is nothing new and it is in the media every now and then. But the burden is considerable, also for the host communities. Moria is a very small village. You have to imagine that a settlement next door that is x times bigger than this one has sprung up wildly. More and more people are coming there. That you now disappear from the media again and possibly also the proposed solutions do not take place, that would really be a fatal situation and a fatal signal for the Greeks on the islands, but also for our partners, Caritas Greece, which carries out the projects for us on the ground.

The question is: How can we secure long-term care there?? In the end, it is also a question of money. Because if this problem no longer appears in the media, it will disappear from people’s consciousness, and then no donations will come in, on which we are urgently dependent, so that we can help the people there.

Interviewer: EU interior ministers are likely to discuss refugees on the islands at their meeting this Tuesday. At least that’s what Chancellor Merkel hinted at during Monday’s press conference. 1.500 unaccompanied minors are supposed to be taken in. What does it actually bring? Does that bring relief for your work?

Kraub: This is first of all a political signal and a symbol. That is what this is good for. And it is also for the 1.500 evacuees certainly a significant improvement in their situation. If you look at the more than 19.000 people in Camp Moria 1.500 away, it is hardly noticeable on the ground and also hardly a relief for the situation of the helpers and the structures that are working there. Ten times overcrowding, you wouldn’t even evacuate ten percent of them. It is a symbol and it is good for the people. It should not be underestimated. But this would only relieve the situation on the ground if it were to have a long-term effect.

Interviewer: I ame that the protection of the helpers also plays a role and that you have discussed this. What does your help on the ground look like in concrete terms??

Kraub: In fact, that’s the biggest concern we have right now: The self-protection of our colleagues who work there every day in the camps. We are in the Kara Tepe camp, which is about five kilometers away from the Moria camp and also connected to it. That’s where especially the most vulnerable people like women with small children or psychologically stressed people come to. We also provide psychological help there. This is especially important now, because the situation is unclear, how it will continue.

Many have already been there for many months, and new ones are arriving. The measures we are taking at the moment are to help them, but also – especially in this situation – to give them hygiene articles, blankets and a sleeping bag. In addition, we see that the self-protection of our colleagues there is maintained and that special attention is paid to it. Because if they get sick, nobody has won anything.

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