Updated: Mar 22
Through this health crisis, there are some cases that we need to argue and make sure it’s not left out. In Particular, the refugee crisis. It is vital to clarify what is currently happening with refugees that are in danger through this global pandemic due to lack of testing.
The refugee crisis started in October 2015, the Greek borders were flooded by migrants coming from the Turkish borders and North African nations through the Mediterranean Sea. The numbers, as released by the UNHCR, reached 6,800 a day (figure 1).
The EU already had the Dublin Regulation to deal with any individual seeking asylum in Europe but, to ease the pressure on authorities several legislative changes were introduced in the year 2013, these included significant updates to the electronic assessment of asylum applications, in particular measures to facilitate data sharing between authorities at all levels.
Narrowing down the European response, Europe had started to invest more in the hotspot approach (A hotspot is an area of the external EU border facing extraordinary migratory pressure to categorise the type of refugee seeker, whether seeking asylum for political or economic reasons). The hotspot approach is mainly led by various EU agencies, including the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex, Europol and Eurojust.
Focusing on the Greek reaction, Greece placed the asylum seekers on five islands: Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros. Until the Valetta conference took place in November 2015, this is where European and African leaders would work together to enhance the development benefits of migration. Moreover, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement of £2.1 billion to ease the flow of migration from the Turkish border.
Although it has been almost five years, and there have been agreements between the EU and Turkey, relations remain fragile. The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, every once in a while would threaten the EU to open his borders declaring that “Europe must share the burden of migration” and claiming that “For years, we have called for the establishment of a safe zone. No European country approached us about contributing or gave any solid support. The number of those heading toward Europe has reached the hundreds and thousands, and there will be more,” he also said, “The figure will soon be in the millions”.
The European response to the case seems very stubborn, although in 2016 there was a deal of $6.8 billion to support Turkey in building housing, schools and medical centres for the refugees, Turkey received only half of it. The Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis
after multiple complains coming from Ankara responded: “I think; eventually, he will have to acknowledge the fact that there is a win-win solution going forward, that we need to go back to the agreement, improve it in certain aspects” but he also added that the Turkish action caused an “invasion” on the Greek borders. He stated regarding the agreements that should soon take place “this is not going to happen under conditions of blackmail”.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, the crisis now is not just about relocating the refugees and categorizing their asylum application; the spread of COVID-19 made the situation even more complicated. Refugees are unfortunately the disregarded ones now.
With the unstoppable battles in Syria and increasing numbers of refugees, raising concerns is vital. Refugee settlements are known to have a high population density, with one case confirmed in the camps of Lesbos that hosts over 20,000 people, that will undoubtedly boost the spread of viruses between the 42,000 refugees held on islands in camps. Dr Hilde Vochten, a medical coordinator in Greece, stated: “To this day, we have not seen a credible emergency plan to protect and treat people living there”.
There must be a better political and medical approach to this calamity. As stated by Muhammad H. Zaman, a professor of biomedical engineering and international health at Boston University “Despite global attention to the challenges posed by the coronavirus and increasing calls to support low- and middle-income countries, refugees are largely ignored and left to their own devices. A global approach is needed to avoid the more tragic loss of life”.
Solutions to this tragedy must be presented urgently. Organisations that work in Global Health such as; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres and CARE International must cooperate with local health authorities to save thousands of refugees that are in urgent need for treatment and prevention to this global pandemic. Financially, expansion of the financial support given to fight the coronavirus, to include the refugee camps and displaced communes. The funding then could be helpful in the building of at least new short-term health facilities to test and treat the individuals in camps to help stop the spread of the newly crude virus that already took the lives of over 11,000 people.