- COVID-19 could run rampant in refugee camps.
- Human rights organisations are worried that the refugee population won’t have access to resources needed to both prevent and then treat the outbreak.
- Violence broke out in a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, after a case was discovered on the island.
- NGO’s asked that the overcrowded camps on the island be evacuated to limit the potential spread of the new coronavirus.
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As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world, many refugee rights organisations and activists are worried what the outbreak could mean for some of the world’s most vulnerable population.
In a statement, Jan Egeland the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said“coronavirus will decimate refugee communities if we don’t act now” in countries like Greece, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
The concern also extends to countries dealing with crippling civil wars and unrest.
“There will also be carnage when the virus reaches parts of Syria, Yemen and Venezuela where hospitals have been demolished and health systems have collapsed,” Egeland said in the statement.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 70.8 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, of which 25.9 are refugees. According to Save the Children, 12 million of those refugees are kids.
Erin Taylor, a spokesperson for Save the Children, told Business Insider the organisation is working with people on the ground in Syria to set up contingency plans in case of an outbreak. After almost a decade of conflict, conditions in the region make it easy for an outbreak to spread out of control.
“The reality is that after nine years of conflict, the health system and infrastructure that would be vital in combatting any public health emergency have been decimated. It would be incredibly difficult to control an outbreak among nearly a million newly displaced people in overcrowded conditions hemmed in by vicious fighting. This is yet another reason why a cessation of hostilities in Syria is so urgently needed,” Taylor said
Here’s how the coronavirus pandemic could affect refugees and the displaced.
Refugees tend to live in overcrowded places with limited to no healthcare which means they are especially vulnerable to infectious disease.
Source: Save the Children
In Greece, the Moria camp in the island of Lesbos has a capacity to accommodate around 3,000 people, but currently it is home to around 20,000 people.
The camp is filled with scabies, lice, and respiratory problems.
“It’s far from the new life in Europe they hoped for – and it’s the perfect breeding ground for the coronavirus,” according to Vice.
Water and soap are limited.
A Doctors without Borders medical coordinator told Vice, in some parts of the camp only one water tap is available for 1,300 people. Additionally, soap is not available.
There has been one confirmed COVID-19 case on Lesbos.
According to The Guardian, fears among those in the refugee camp escalated after Lesbos confirmed it’s first COVID-19 case. There was anger over more people arriving at the camp. Several NGO’s had to reduce or stop their services due to fears of violence, and doctors and journalists were attacked.
So far Greece has reported 418 cases and 6 deaths.
Violence in Moria camp suspended NGO services.
Médecins San Frontières suspended their services due to the violence but were “overwhelmed” with patients after they reopened, The Guardian reported.
Rights groups have called for the camps on Lesbos to be evacuated.
The group has called for migrants to be evacuated from the crowded camps to avoid the spread of the virus, Reuters reported.
While the Greek government suspended “visits and activities of non-state organisations in refugee camps” last week, MSF told Reuters that mostly impacts the work they do inside the camp.
Many other refugee camps also don’t have the tools to handle an outbreak.
Save the Children also reported that there is no system for screening or testing for the new coronavirus in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh. According to Save the Children, Cox Bazar has the largest refugee resettlement population in the world. While there are still no confirmed cases, it would be difficult for people living there to self-isolate which could allow the virus to rapidly spread if the virus makes its way there.