Greece extends containment of migrant camps for the third time

In a migrant camp near Promahonas, in northern Greece, March 21, 2020.
In a migrant camp near Promahonas, in northern Greece, March 21, 2020. SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFP

Greece has extended the confinement imposed since March on overcrowded migrant camps by two weeks on the grounds of stopping the coronavirus epidemic, as the country is actively preparing for a resumption of tourism. “Measures against the spread of the Covid-19 virus are extended for residents of reception and identification centers in the country” until June 21, announced on Official newspaper Sunday June 7.

The government had imposed confinement on March 21 to migrant camps set up on the Aegean islands as well as those on the mainland. She then decided to have general confinement on March 23 which was maintained until May 4. The confinement of the camps had already been extended twice, on May 10 and then on May 21, until June 7.

With 180 deaths from the coronavirus and 2,980 cases, Greece was less affected than its European partners by the pandemic. Among the migrants, no deaths from Covid-19 disease have been recorded and only a few dozen cases have been reported, according to the authorities.

More than 33,000 asylum seekers live in five camps on the Aegean islands, which can accommodate only 5,400 people, and some 70,000 in other facilities on the continent. Human rights groups are concerned that the rights of migrants will be hampered by restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus.

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Promotion campaign to attract tourists

The announcement of the extension of the confinement of migrant camps comes just after the launch of a promotional campaign by the country aimed at boosting tourism, essential for its economy with 20% of GDP. “We are opening the doors and windows of Greece, gradually but with optimism”, assured the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Thursday, by presenting an advertising spot intended to attract tourists from around the world.

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As of June 15, the two main airports in Athens and Thessaloniki are allowed to welcome visitors from around 30 countries, mostly from the European Union, the country’s main customers. Regional airports are scheduled to open on 1er July.

Random tests are planned for visitors. Those arriving from the regions most affected by the coronavirus, such as the Paris region in France or the most affected areas in Italy, will be subject to quarantine for seven to fourteen days.

Malta authorizes disembarkation of 425 migrants

For its part, the island of Malta finally authorized the disembarkation of more than 400 migrants, stranded at sea for some for several weeks. These 425 people, who came from Libya and rescued in the Mediterranean during several rescue operations since April, disembarked on the night of Saturday June 6 to Sunday June 7 in Valletta, the government announced in a statement.

Migrants dry their clothes on a tourist boat some 20 km from Malta on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.
Migrants dry their clothes on a tourist boat some 20 km from Malta, Tuesday June 2, 2020. Rene ‘Rossignaud / AP

The Maltese authorities prohibited their landing and kept them at the limit of territorial waters aboard specially mobilized tourist boats, highlighting the risks of contamination with Covid-19, then demanding that other European countries take charge of them in the long term . This situation was strongly criticized by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), organizations defending human rights, such as those defending migrants.

“No European country, despite their grand speeches on European solidarity, has finally agreed to take these migrants”, lambasted Valletta in his press release. The government “Did not want to endanger the lives of these migrants like that of the crews” ships welcoming them.

Since 2005, the island of Malta has faced a wave of arrivals of migrants, notably from Libya. Only 8% of them have been relocated to other countries of the European Union (EU), and irregular migrants now represent 1% of the island’s total population, according to Valletta, who sees it a “Tsunami” and warned that the country, the smallest state in the EU, “Will not become the center of the European migration crisis”.

They were 3,405 to have landed in 2019, of which 2,795 are still there, according to official Maltese figures. In early 2020, almost 1,400 arrived in Malta, an increase of 438% over this period compared to last year. Only Portugal and France have responded to Malta’s calls this year, promising to welcome 6 and 30 people respectively.

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The World with AFP

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