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article imageFirst virus death in Greek migrant camp

By Katerina NIKOLOPOULOU (AFP)     Sep 27, 2020 in World

Greek officials on Sunday announced the first coronavirus death in a migrant camp near Athens, as refugee groups stepped up criticism of the containment policy of the Greek government and Europe.

The victim was a 61-year-old father-of-two from Afghanistan who had been living in the Malakassa camp near Athens, the asylum ministry said. He died while being treated in a hospital in Athens.

Malakassa, along with the Schisto and Elaionas camps near Athens, were placed in quarantine in early September as concerns mounted over the spread of the coronavirus among thousands of asylum-seekers living there in squalid conditions.

Greece's migrant camps have been under lockdown since March, with restrictions on who can leave and enter, conditions harshly criticise by some rights groups.

On the Aegean island of Lesbos meanwhile, more than 240 asylum-seekers who transferred to a temporary camp after the destruction of the Moria camp in fires earlier this month, have contracted the virus.

Greek authorities on Sunday announced 218 new coronavirus cases and three deaths -- including that of the migrant.

Since the start of the pandemic, 379 people have died of the virus in Greece, with an average age of 78. Sixty-eight people are currently in intensive care.

Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said Sunday that all unaccompanied children had now been removed from the island camps.

- 'Conditions are dire' -

But refugee groups are still angry at plans to keep the island facilities open for other asylum seekers and at the new EU migrant policy, unveiled on Wednesday.

The EU's "New Pact on Migration and Asylum" calls for a tougher stance on returning migrants who do not have the right to stay in the EU, and for the ratcheting up border controls.

"The (European) Commission promised 'No more Moria', while building a new containment camp in Lesbos, where conditions are dire," tweeted the one migrant rights group, Legal Centre Lesbos.

The only flaw from Greece's perspective is the Commission giving up on quota-based redistribution of asylum seekers among EU countries -- a plan first mooted during the migration crisis of 2015 but which foundered on opposition from several member states.

"While there has been a climate of support from Europe after the Moria blaze, the final answers are not what some people might expect," Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Real FM radio on Sunday.

"There is a reserve in member states with few exceptions. Our country is constantly asking for relocations."

The Greek government has struggled to manage overcrowding in camps on the five Aegean islands most affected by the arrivals -- even more so since the Moria camp on Lesbos burned down on September 8 and 9.

Half of the 24,000 migrants packed into Greek camps remain on Lesbos.

Government officials there scrambled to set up a provisional site for those left without shelter by the blaze, but charity groups were already incensed at conditions there.

Campaigners point to the long waits the migrants endure for their one meal a day; the lack of mattresses and the impossibility of respecting coronavirus infection control measures like social distancing.

"We have continuously exposed the human cost of this outrageous containment policy to leaders in European capitals, to commissioners in Brussels and to citizens through the media," Christos Christou, the president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) tweeted.

"But nothing seems to lead to a desperately needed radical policy change. Enough is enough. No more lies.".

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