UNHCR is moving out of overcrowded Moria elderly and vulnerable to minimize public health risks

© UNHCR/Marios Andriotis

Mytilene – As an emergency measure to limit the risk of COVID-19, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has moved 122 elderly and immune-suppressed asylum seekers to rented hotels on Lesvos island. In coordination with the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and the National Public Health Organization (EODY), UNHCR has undertaken similar initiatives in other islands of the Aegean with overloaded reception facilities, in an effort to protect those who will be most severely affected in case of an outbreak, but also to minimize public health risks. At the same time, and with COVID-19 aggravating pre-existing and longstanding protection concerns, UNHCR continues to advocate for increased transfers of asylum seekers, especially those who are most vulnerable, from the islands to appropriate accommodation on the mainland, taking all necessary precautions for safe movement.

In a meeting held earlier today with the Lesvos Hoteliers Association, UNHCR Office on Lesvos clarified the purpose of this initiative and its temporary character and responded to all relevant questions, dispelling inaccuracies that have been circulating lately.

Although no case has been reported at the reception centre in Moria, the risk of infection is present for thousands who are crowded there in alarming conditions. Distancing and regular handwashing are generally not possible and access to sanitation and health services is minimal. “It is crucial that people who are most vulnerable to complications due to COVID-19, such as the elderly and people with chronic illness, are not left exposed in unhygienic and overcrowded conditions”, said Astrid Castelein, Head of the UNHCR Office on Lesvos. “Moving them out of these precarious conditions protects not only the most vulnerable refugees but also the local community and public health. While we have rented hotels on the island as an emergency measure, our call to move more people to the mainland as soon as possible remains as strong as ever”, she added.

Upon request of the public health authorities in Mytilene, UNHCR is also cooperating with EODY and other medical actors to establish medical units and spaces for screening and quarantine in the vicinity of the reception centre in Moria. We are also helping to increase water and sanitation capacity, deliver hygiene items and continue running the regular cash assistance activities and contribute in the community mobilization to promote hygiene measures in and around the site.

UNHCR stands ready to continue working with the central and local authorities, as well as with the local community, to make sure that no one is left behind amidst the pandemic. We can only defeat this virus when each and every one of us is protected.