(Source: MJ/Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union)

COMECE calls EU members states to show generosity in accepting the relocation of asylum seekers from Greek islands, minimising the risk of COVID-19 infection among them and providing adequate health treatment to those already infected.

“We are in our homes, afraid. I also think of the most vulnerable: how it must feel for those who are in refugee camps, who have nothing, not even medicine for the seasonal flu”, said Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, President of COMECE and Archbishop of Luxembourg, during a recent interview.

The COVID-19 pandemic is strongly impacting societies from across the world, but it shows its darkest face when it comes to vulnerable populations, among them refugees who are living in overcrowded centers and settlements, with limited or even no access to adequate health services.

The EU Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDPC) warns that vulnerable individuals including undocumented migrants will require extra support.

In this respect, “authorities may want to consider coordinating with and supporting civil society and religious groups who already work with these populations”, said the CDPC.

Considering the lethal consequences that a COVID-19 outbreak would have in a refugee camp, OHCHR, IOM, UNHCR and WHO, as well as Caritas Europa, welcomed the relocation of 12 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children organized by the EU and the Greek authorities from Greece to Luxembourg, and called for the further release of the remaining migrant children and their families and those detained without a sufficient legal basis.

Germany will also relocate 50 children in the upcoming days.

COMECE reiterates the need to relocate asylum seekers from the Greek islands because the situation there is particularly dramatic: around 20,000 people are settled in Moria camp, on the island of Lesbos, whose facilities are designed to accommodate only 3,000 asylum seekers.

Moreover, as highlighted in a recent report, the population density of the Moria camp – on the Greek island of Lesbos – is more elevated than the infection rate on a cruise ship, posing major challenges in efforts to protect asylum seekers from the disease.

The dramatic situation on the Greek islands is also due to the recent adoption of a controversial emergency decree suspending asylum procedures for one month.

Following the suspension of the right to asylum in Greece and the limitations in other EU countries, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and the Council of Europe Special Representative on Migration and Refugees reminded, among other things, that States’ measures to manage  risks to public health in case of a pandemic may not prevent people from  seeking asylum (Articles 3(b), 4 and 7.1 of the Schengen Borders Code).

COMECE recalls the importance of respecting international legal obligations of asylum seekers and their families and encourages EU member states to show solidarity towards them, in particular in this context of the coronavirus pandemic.

More on Novena on Europe’s refugee crisis:

Francis thanks Mediterranean refugee rescuers: “I’m always available to lend a hand. Count on me”

Caritas denounces COVID-19 cases among refugees on Greek islands, pleads with EU for relocation of unaccompanied minors

German Church groups urge government not to suspend humanitarian refugee admissions during COVID-19

Cardinal denounces: “We in Europe give money to Turkey so refugees don’t annoy us”

200 Church, civil groups launch COVID-19 SOS for 42,000 refugees “trapped” on Greek islands “in horrific conditions”

Amid virus crisis, International Catholic Migration Commission pledges continuing closeness to refugees, victims of trafficking

Jesuit Refugee Service, other NGOs blame EU for “avoidable tragedy” of death in fire of six-year-old on Lesbos

Nordic Lutheran, Catholic bishops cry out on corona, migrant crises: “A virus must be combated, but not people seeking refuge”

Jesus, too, was a refugee: Pope to highlight plight of 41 million internally displaced people for World Day of Migrants

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.