Humanitarian organisations supporting refugees across Europe are calling for more aid amid fears that those living in camp communities could be ‘’devastated’ by the spread of coronavirus.
The virus, otherwise known as COVID-19, causes high fevers, coughs and respiratory problems, which, if caught by those with underlying health conditions, could be fatal.
And with thousands of displaced people living in cramped conditions with little sanitation, running water and areas already-abundant in disease, experts fear that once the virus hits these communities, the impact could be shattering.
In Greece, while there has been just one confirmed case within the island camps of Lesbos, coordinators are already bracing for the onset, with people now on lock-down as food and medical supplies dwindle and more pressure is put on health services.
Now, closures are being made to the most basic services across the camps as tensions on the islands grow and, following Greece’s decision to remove AMKA (the Greek social security system) for refugees and undocumented people last July, the new legislation introduced in November to give asylum seekers temporary access to healthcare has yet to be implemented.
Echoing these fears in a statement, Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “Millions of conflict-affected people are living in cramped refugee and displacement sites with desperately poor hygiene and sanitation facilities.
“When the virus hits overcrowded settlements in places like Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Greece, the consequences will be devastating.
“We must act now.”
It comes as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called for urgent funds of $33 million(US) to boost preparedness, prevention and response, and address the immediate public health needs of refugees prompted by COVID-19.
Following the call, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, added: “Allowing full access to health services, including for the most marginalized members of the community, is the best way to protect us all.
“Everyone on this planet – including refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people– should be able to access health facilities and services.”
The agency says it’s now ‘strengthening’ its preparedness by building on previous experience of dealing with SARS, Ebola and influenza outbreaks.
Abi Hewitt, co-Founder of Love Welcomes said “These are unprecedented, unsettling times and our top priority is the well-being of the women in the Love Welcomes team. They have faced so much uncertainty in their journey so far and this is yet more. For now, the women have been asked to remain in their Isobox housing – which is a small container for themselves and their family. ⠀
In light of this situation, we have made an immediate promise that we will continue paying them and will provide access to key services in the camp in the near future”, and called on the Love Welcomes community of support around the world for extra help. She said “We can only do this with the support of our amazing community. Please can you help us continue to support these women who have already lost everything? Who arrived in a camp, where they believed they had at last found safety for themselves and their children only to now confront an epidemic without access to adequate health care or sanitation? If you can, please support our work with the community by continuing to buy or donate.“
Other organisations are also calling for support, in the hopes that even the smallest donation can make a difference to a refugee at this difficult time.
To read more about the Love Welcomes story and make a donation, click here.