Athens, April 2, 2020 – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is concerned that twenty-three migrants have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Ritsona open accommodation site in Central Greece. The IOM-managed camp, which hosts 2,700 people, reported its first confirmed case on Tuesday.   

“This development confirms the fact that this fast-moving virus does not discriminate and can affect both migrant and local communities,” said Gianluca Rocco, Chief of IOM’s Mission in Greece. “Everyone is at risk. Migrants and refugees in Greece are susceptible to the virus as much as the Greek community.”   

The Ritsona site is one of 30 open accommodation facilities on the mainland of Greece, which in total accommodate just over 25,000 people, including 252 unaccompanied children. Following the national COVID-19 protocols, the Greek authorities have placed the site under quarantine for the next fourteen days, advising residents to remain in their accommodations. The authorities are carrying out contact tracing and further testing in the camp.  

“It is critical that everyone, including migrant and refugees on the mainland and the islands, are ensured equal access to health services, including prevention, testing and treatment, especially in times like these” Rocco said.  

“Immediate inclusion of all migrants in the national response to COVID-19 is not only a humanitarian measure, but essential to public health policy in Greece.”     

As the official site management support agency for Ritsona, IOM continues to work in the facility under strict safety protocol. With support from the European Commission, IOM is distributing food baskets and hygiene kits to all residents as an immediate response to the quarantine, which will limit access to the supply of food from the outside. At the same time, the Greek authorities are establishing quarantine spaces in all camps as an additional measure to support the public health services’ management of the situation.  

IOM, with EU funding, is present in all 30 open accommodation facilities on the mainland. Cleansers and soaps were distributed to all residents. All working spaces and common areas are being disinfected.   

The Organization is raising awareness about the virus by translating and disseminating guidance informing refugee and migrant communities about how to protect themselves and lower the risk of infection.   

“Information and immediate action to ensure the safety of staff, camp residents, and ultimately all of society are top priority right now,” said Rocco.   

The COVID-19 cases on the mainland also raise concern for the migrants in the Reception and Identification Centres on the five islands of the North-Eastern Aegean where overpopulation makes it extremely difficult to take necessary precautions, such as physical distancing between people and vigilant hygiene, to better manage response to the spread of the virus.  

As analysts have suggested, migrants and refugees now on the Greek islands should be moved to the mainland as soon as possible. IOM stands ready to assist with the construction of adequate accommodations to meet the need.  

“The threat of COVID-19 makes it even more urgent to decongest the camps on the islands. IOM is contributing to these efforts with the creation of new accommodation arrangements on the mainland,” said Rocco.   

In this regard, IOM is also establishing a temporary voluntary return mechanism for people on the islands who decide to return to their home countries. In collaboration with the European Commission and the Greek authorities, the implementation and duration of this programme will be adjusted in accordance with COVID-19 related measures taken by states, such as the closure of airports or other travel restrictions.  

“This is however not an easy task and needs further measures and support from EU member states. We renew our call for European solidarity with Greece on the urgent relocation of the unaccompanied children and other migrants to European countries willing to share the responsibility. Now more than ever we are all in this together.”  

As the leading agency on Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster, IOM works alongside governments globally to care for and uphold the rights of people in camps or camp-like settings. In 2019, IOM carried out CCCM activities in 1,117 displacement sites across 23 countries, reaching 2.4 million people.