“When they tell you you are in prison, and you will be released and then they tell you your sentence has been extended, that is how I feel now,” Hassan told VICE News. “They just don’t care.”Vial similarly spent all summer under an ever-extending lockdown, as Greece’s Ministry of Migration or the camp managers announced every two weeks that the measures had been extended. These measures applied to camps across the country, impacting tens of thousands of refugees. Early in the pandemic, Greece was praised for its response as the country enacted an almost two-month-long lockdown that largely curbed the spread of the virus. But in early May, as the rest of Greece opened up, dozens of refugee camps and accommodation structures remained shuttered. These lockdowns were extended, expired, and reinstated multiple times in different forms, despite low infection rates. Even as many lockdown restrictions have shifted, instead of protecting refugees, the Greek government has weaponized COVID-19 regulations against migrants in the country and has linked them with the spread of the virus.
“They just don’t care.”
After the fire, residents spent days protesting. They were then pushed to a new camp nearby that was outfitted with temporary summer tents. Residents are now only permitted to exit the new camp from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Over Whatsapp, Ahmadi explained her frustration with being locked inside: “It’s wrong, it’s wrong that everyone in this camp has coronavirus. It’s a lie,” said Ahmadi. “We are humans, not animals. They should not make a closed camp for us.” “To be limited with wires and fences is a very bad feeling,” said Parwana Amiri, a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan in Greece’s Ritsona refugee camp, one of the two camps first placed in strict quarantine. This quarantine was extended several times over the summer and into the fall. She told VICE News that both entrances to the camp, located an hour north of Athens, were locked and guarded by police buses through October. The processing of asylum cases in the camp slowed to almost a complete stop, almost no one could get out, even for a doctor’s visit.
“We are humans, not animals.”
Human rights organizations have critiqued the disparate ways pandemic measures have been implemented in Greece. “We warn against using quarantine as a blanket measure. It should only be implemented when people’s basic rights can at the same time be protected,” said Adriana Tidona, a researcher at Amnesty International. “This can be seen in access to economic and social rights. The restrictions are impacting access to services, to lawyers or other essential services because people are basically unable to enter the cities.”
“What we see is a kind of double standard.”
“It was very bad. All the people were depressed,” said Aman Allah Khajahgere, a refugee from Iran who has lived in Eleonas refugee camp for over a year. “There [are] a lot of children in the camp. It’s very bad for them. There’s no class, no place to play, all the time they are fighting together, fighting together.” Khajahgere spends hours every week volunteering to bring basic supplies like diapers, clothes, and food to other camps near Athens. “They didn’t bring enough support. How can people stay inside?” He asked. “They say they want it closed to protect the people, but if there is coronavirus in the camp, they should bring people outside.” Khajahgere is worried about the impact of the government regulations on the children in the camp, and about what kind of future is possible for him in Greece. He is also exasperated at the suggestion that regulations on the camp are simple public health concerns. “Everything is about the politics. They play with the refugees,” he told VICE News. “Believe me I like this country, I want to stay. But they do not support me. They play with us.”
“Believe me I like this country, I want to stay. But they do not support me. They play with us.”