Greece: Locals “stay at home” while migrants “stay invisible” – part III

By Heleen Tummers|May 19, 2020|Uncategorized|0 comments

Yannis Dirakis works in Vathi Camp on the Greek Island of Samos. He writes, in 3 parts, on the impact of Covid-19 on the already fragile refugee situation in his country.
In Part I and Part II, he wrote about the situation before the Covid-19 outbreak and the refugee protection and Greek response after the outbreak. In this final part, he discusses the further discrimination of migrants in Covid-19 response and their efforts to protect
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those  the author himself.


Part III – Discrimination against migrants and migrants organising themselves

Discrimination against migrants in Covid-19 measures

Greek authorities appear to be particularly strict on asylum seekers who break the Covid-19 restriction measures and in several cases, fines have been imposed on them. A refugee woman, for instance, returned to Moria camp by foot from the Lesvos Hospital and received a fine of €150 for being outside the camp. Two Palestinians in Chios’ VIAL, who were accused of organising a ‘children’s party’ while they were supervising a group of young children playing in the fields outside the ‘jungle’ (the space outside the official camp, where the majority of asylum seekers live), were fined €5000 each.

Similarly, there have been complaints of different harsh treatment of migrants in other places such as Heraklion, Crete and Athens. In some cases, there have been allegations of unjustified use of police force against migrants. Noteworthy also are the fines imposed on members of the Coordination of Trade Unions, Student Associations and Initiatives for Refugees and Immigrants (SYPROME), including two doctors, who visited Athens to investigate the complaints and check on the health of migrants who had decided to organise a hunger strike. According to Greece’s Migration and Asylum Minister, refugees’ fines will be deducted from the monthly allowance they receive through UNHCR’s ‘ESTIA’ program, leaving them with even less resources than they already have.

Migrants organising

On the brighter side, in several parts of Greece, refugees are self-organising and implementing necessary measures to protect themselves and deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. A prominent example is the squatted and self-organised “Lavrio Centre of Temporary Stay for Foreign Asylum Seekers”, which houses more than 400 (predominately Kurdish) political and war refugees.

In Lavrio, 600 kilometres south-east of Athens, Greece’s (and possibly Europe’s) oldest still functioning refugee camp opened its gates in 1947. In 2017, Lavrio Centre ceased to be part of the official reception centres of Greece and became a self-organised refugee centre. It is governed by its current residents, as their committees did not consent to its conversion into a controlled hosting facility in accordance with the standards of the rest of the ‘official’ state camps. Thus, the residents decided to keep its special characteristics that have formed over the years, maintaining a degree of dignity, freedom and participation in its management and administration. Since the summer of 2017, mainly Kurds have occupied the camp, implementing a structure consisting of several committees that ensure the equal participation of everyone – including women, young people and even children – in decision-making and general administration.

The same committees are now implementing strict anti-coronavirus measures and have formed a four-member group that oversees the supply of the whole camp with food and other necessities, in a safe way. The group does not accept any visitors from solidarity movements outside the camp, but instead asks them to leave their supplies outside the gate, after which a group of refugees wearing gloves picks them up, stocks them in the warehouse and delivers them to the separate residents’ rooms. They’ve organised a rotating plan of “yard time” to avoid congestion plus regularly disinfect and ventilate all rooms and public spaces. They repaired damaged (due to the buildings’ old age) plumbing in the bathrooms and have created additional shower cabins (increasing capacity up to 1 for every 25 people instead of the previous 1 for every 50). In addition, they have set up isolation rooms for possible suspected Covid-19 cases, brought in masks, gloves and chlorine for all inhabitants,  and use infrared thermometers to regularly monitor residents’ temperatures. Despite their abandonment by the state, or maybe because of it, the Kurds in Lavrio have undertaken their own self-protection measures with great responsibility.

In some islands (e.g. Lesvos, Leros, etc.), migrants have organised “coronavirus awareness” groups, gathering and distributing information and instructions in several languages. They also organise collective actions to clean up the tons of garbage among which they are living and are trying to raise awareness. Some groups of refugees sew and distribute hand-made masks, since the authorities do not supply them.

Dozens of solidarity groups around Greece are collecting food, medical supplies and other essentials for the abandoned hosting facilities (e.g. the new sites in Malakasa and Kleidi where the newly arrived asylum seekers have been transferred, Koridalos women’s detention center, Korinthos and Lavrio camps) where the shortages are huge. There are also several online petition campaigns for the immediate evacuation of refugee camps.

Finally, in many accommodation centres, pre-departure detention facilities, and police stations where migrants are detained, people have mobilized and organised protests and hunger strikes (e.g. in Malakasa, in Glyfada, Peristeri and Vouliagmenis police stations, PROKEKA of Moria, Corinthos), denouncing their miserable living conditions in overcrowded camps with poor quality of food, hygiene and healthcare, which make them even more vulnerable to Covid-19. Unfortunately, the authorities’ response in most cases is to violently suppress their protests, with no attempts so far to improve the conditions.

With all that I have said over these three blogs, I believe it is clear that we are not “all together” in this crisis, as we were not in any other in the past. “Stay at home” does not mean the same for everyone and “stay in the camps” is perhaps the most shocking example of that.



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