Thousands of women*, girls and LGBTIQA+ refugees, asylum seekers and migrants run away from persecution and conflict, risking their lives on extremely difficult and dangerous journeys. Some of them escape discrimination and sexual and physical violence in their countries of origin, only to meet with further violence, human trafficking and abuse at the hands of traffickers, border guards and even their relatives on the road. The very least a society should provide for people fleeing danger or hardship is a place where they can feel safe, where they can express their fears and where their demands will be heard. Instead, the conditions in refugee camps and temporary housing are unsanitary, overcrowded and often dangerous. This puts the whole of Europe to shame. We refer to the situation in Greece in particular, but we must be aware that conditions are catastrophic also in Germany, in France, and in Bosnia, to mention but a few.
During the pandemic, the Greek government has postponed asylum applications (1 March 2020 to 15 May 2020)—just after the closing of the borders and with the outbreak of the pandemic further worsening the already life-threatening living conditions of the residents in the camps. A highly dysfunctional reception system sees thousands of people trapped in over-crowded camps on the Greek mainland and islands, which have never been properly equipped to provide long-term hospitality. With the looming Europe-wide recession, the public attention paid to these conditions will continue to decrease, leading to a further invisibilization of this horrendous situation.
With a severe lack of basic personal hygiene facilities and medical care, no personal protective equipment and no possibility for physical distancing, there is no protection from the virus. The poor living conditions in the camps are particularly burdensome for women*, girls and LGBTIQA+ refugees who are exposed to a variety of dangers, including harassment, sexual violence and once again, marginalization. Whether they live in urban areas or in refugee camps, the lack of adequate information and women* interpreters is a significant obstacle preventing women* from obtaining details about the virus and protection measures, and from accessing vital services, such as sexual and reproductive health clinics or legal aid.
Even in the time “before Corona”, when the world was looking aghast to the Greek-Turkish border, the EU Member States demonstrated their reluctance to respond adequately. Now, the European governments still refuse to take responsibility or the action required to relocate people to adequate accommodation and provide them with free access to health care. Instead, they are proceeding with racist blockades of entire structures and a ban on travel, without any prior care provided to give health and social support to the residents of the camps. Once again, while we are all facing this pandemic crisis, the basic narrative of many governments—not just in Greece—is a racist one. They restrict gatherings and advise civilians to protect themselves from infection by staying at home, while at the same time treating refugees, asylum seekers and migrants like second-class citizens, forcing them to live in overcrowded camps with no basic hygiene facilities or health care.
This has to stop immediately. We call for: