[Europe] NGOs Raise Alarm as Coronavirus Strips Support from EU Refugees

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18 Mar 2020
The Guardian

The Guardian published a situational overview of France, Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and reactions from humanitarian organizations sharing concerns that their staff are unable to work due to the pandemic. Their alert comes from the well-grounded fear that a potential Covid19 outbreak would be ‘devastating for an already vulnerable population’.


Twenty-four organizations sent a letter to the French government and local authorities in Calais and Grande Synthe to demand urgent protection for migrants and refugees.

Their key arguments included:

  • Prolonged deteriorating situation in Northern France – insufficient accommodation, crowding in tents, cold weather and humidity leading to lung issues, intolerable sanitation, stress, fatigue. As a result, self-isolation is impossible.
  • 1,000 people are living outside in Calais, and 2,000 in Dunkirk.
  • Organizations are currently losing many volunteers, and at the same time, are faced with the challenge of protecting their personnel from potential contamination. As a result, a day centre managed by Caritas in Calais was forced to close.
  • Refugees and migrants are unable to make emergency calls as shops selling phone credits have closed their premises. 


Similarly, humanitarian organizations sent a letter to senior EU and Greek leaders demanding urgent help for families and children who have recently arrived in the country. Additional calls are related to stop deportations and organize relocation/family reunification for unaccompanied children.

Key arguments:

  • People in need of international protection are already vulnerable and have limited access to sanitation services.
  • Children are not registered, and therefore unprotected. Preparation around the pandemic has not taken place, and has not been planned.
  • Activities in closed facilities organized by organizations (e.g. the International Rescue Committee) have ceased and group sessions are suspended.
  • Health conditions in the Moria camp in Lesbos were alarming prior to the pandemic. Médecins Sans Frontières had to withdraw following the increase of arrivals from Turkey.
  • The number of unaccompanied children reached 5, 000 of which 1,000 reside on the island of Lesbos.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • 7,000 migrants reside in the country, mostly in the reception sites of Tuzla, Bihać and Velika Kladuša, with the expectation of thousands more arriving. 
  • Those living in camps are deprived of electricity, heating and water due to heavy snowfalls.
  • Doctors warn of limited hospital capacities, quarantine places, and insufficient number of Covid19 tests for both citizens and migrants.
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