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By Kristy Siegfried | 2 April, 2020


Greece quarantines mainland camp after 20 asylum-seekers test positive for coronavirus. Greece’s migration ministry said today that movement in and out of the Ritsona camp, some 80 kilometres north of Athens, will be restricted for 14 days after 20 asylum-seekers living there tested positive for the coronavirus. Tests were conducted on 63 people in the camp after a 19-year-old woman who had been staying there was found to have contracted the virus after she gave birth at a hospital in Athens. None of the confirmed cases had any symptoms, according to the ministry. It said testing would continue at the camp, which hosts some 2,000 people. Aid groups and refugees have expressed mounting concern about the potential for COVID-19 to spread in Greek camps, particularly on the Aegean islands where 35,000 asylum-seekers are staying in facilities meant for fewer than 6,000. UNHCR has been urging the authorities to scale up transfers from island reception centres. Meanwhile, it has stepped up its support to the authorities to increase water and sanitation capacity, deliver hygiene items, and establish medical units for screening, isolation and quarantine.

Guatemalan asylum-seeker dies in protest at Mexican detention centre. Reuters reports that a Guatemalan man died of smoke inhalation at an immigration detention centre in south-eastern Mexico on Tuesday when detainees burned mattresses to protest conditions they said could expose them to the coronavirus. Fourteen other people were taken to hospital and 27 others escaped from the facility, according to Mexican authorities. In a joint statement with other UN agencies, UNHCR said it had arranged the transfer of 42 asylum-seekers from the detention centre to a shelter. As part of its work in Mexico, the agency advocates with immigration authorities and Mexico’s refugee agency (COMAR) to ensure asylum-seekers are able to pursue their claims outside of detention. In a statement yesterday, the UN described the situation of migrants and refugees detained in cramped and unsanitary conditions as “worrying” in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and called for their release.


Somalia prepares to battle coronavirus. So far Somalia has only reported three COVID-19 cases, but there are fears that an outbreak could spread quickly through informal settlements where some 2.6 million people displaced by conflict and natural disasters live. The settlements are overcrowded and lack basic services. One woman who fled fighting in the countryside to a makeshift camp in the capital, Mogadishu, told Reuters that she and her eight children lacked enough water to drink, let alone to wash their hands. The government has allocated about US$11 million for coronavirus preparation, while the WHO has trained health workers and brought in personal protective equipment. In a statement on Wednesday, UN experts called on governments to step up measures to protect internally displaced people from the COVID-19 threat. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of IDPs, said they were at heightened risk of exposure due to limited access to health care, water, sanitation and adequate housing.

Top EU court says states broke law by refusing to take relocated asylum-seekers. The European Union’s top court ruled today that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic broke EU law by refusing to take in their assigned share of asylum-seekers under a 2015 EU relocation scheme. At the height of arrivals to Europe in 2015, most EU countries agreed to the scheme under which asylum-seekers would be moved from overburdened Greece and Italy to other Member States according to set quotas. Budapest, Prague and Warsaw opposed the plan. The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice said in its ruling that by refusing to comply with the relocation mechanism, the three countries had “failed to fulfil their obligations under European Union law”.

Fears for civilians in Chad following Boko Haram attack on army. The Chadian military has reportedly asked the local population to clear an area in the Lake Chad borderlands that it has declared a war zone following a Boko Haram ambush last week that killed nearly 100 of its soldiers. The Guardian reports on fears that the military offensive will impact communities in Lac province, including those living on islands within Lake Chad who have already faced violence and harassment from armed groups. Military operations have also restricted the local economy based on fishing and livestock. So far, some 20,000 people have fled the military operation areas, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which said further displacement could occur in the coming days. The province is already sheltering 169,000 internally displaced people as well as 13,000 Nigerian refugees.

Australian doctors call for asylum-seekers to be released from detention. More than 1,110 doctors and other health-care professionals have co-signed a letter to Australia’s home affairs minister calling for the immediate release of people held in Australia’s immigration detention centres. David Isaacs, a paediatric infectious diseases professor at the University of Sydney, said detention centres and hotels being used to detain refugees and asylum-seekers transferred from Manus Island and Nauru under medical transfer laws were high risk for the coronavirus. The letter calls for refugees and asylum-seekers to be released into community-supported accommodation. A Brisbane immigration detention guard tested positive for the virus last month, but an Australian border force spokesperson said no detainees across the country’s immigration detention network had tested positive for COVID-19 and infection control plans were in place.


Work is underway in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to build isolation facilities in the region’s many informal refugee settlements to help contain any possible outbreaks of the coronavirus. “We hope nothing will happen, but if it did, at least there is an isolation space so others don’t get infected,” said a Syrian refugee living in one of the settlements.


The Boko Haram insurgency has displaced over 2.6 million people in the Lake Chad Basin, which includes Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Most of the displacement (88 per cent) has occurred in north-east Nigeria.