Refugee Camps in Times of COVID-19

Globally, countries support each other to deal with the outbreak of the Coronavirus. In Iran, the UNHCR supports the local Government to protect both refugees and the communities they live in. It has recently airlifted emergency aid in view of further supporting Iran’s health care system. Iranian women have joined the fight against COVID-19 in Mashhad City by producing some 7,000 masks[1] to help doctors and nurses stay safe.

In the camp areas in Greece the situation is grave despite the €2bn EU aid[2] . The hygiene and safety measures have almost no effect in these refugee camps which are not equipped with water points, proper toilets and a sewage system. Social distancing is not possible as the camps are usually overcrowded. The scarce number of social workers operating in the field attempt to raise awareness about how the virus spreads and provide sanitary items. But with the problematic infrastructure, it is difficult to achieve much.

An Afghan refugee staying in Moria camp in Greece, with whom I contact via Telegram application, says: “…Today they have come and gave us soap, there should be water to use soap. Here we have no water, how we are supposed to use these soap…”. An African asylum seeker, with whom I contacted via video call, explains: “…Since 18 March 2020, the EASO (European Asylum Support Office) has not been working, this Monday [19 May] they are reopening and God knows how long the queue is going to be when people come to renew their asylum applicant cards, appeal and other services”.

In Germany, refugees fear lack of protection as COVID-19 cases soar. They fear the government is failing to shield them from coronavirus as infections at one crowded reception centre have risen sharply in recent days. Confirmed cases of coronavirus at a facility in the south-western town of Ellwangen where refugees are accommodated while their asylum applications are processed had increased from seven to 251 in five days[3].

As the concerns rise, many activists in other towns such as Göttingen, are demanding governments to evacuate the camps.

In Friedland camp in the vicinity of Göttingen, as the number of refugees and asylum seekers being admitted has significantly reduced, the situation is well under control. A social aid worker from Caritas in Friedland, with whom I talked dated on 16 June 2020, explains: “This is relatively relaxed with Corona. There are not too many people here, so it is not full, which means that it can be handled well. There is more cleaning and more disinfection. There are dispensers with disinfectants for the [people] who are accommodated in Friedland, they are given two masks twice a day and therefore it is relatively relaxed. We are now at Caritas with the advice on site and are offering talks with a face mask and plexiglass, so far no case has occurred”.

Solin is a young woman from Syria who has newly arrived at Friedland from Greece. She speaks about the situation in Friedland: “In the cafeteria, they gave us hygiene masks, soap and washing liquids, I am not afraid …”. It seemed that Corona is not a concern to Solin very much and she mentioned that she was feeling safe in Friedland.

In line with Corona hygiene measures, refugees receive sanitary items right after their arrival in Friedland, however, they are not given verbal information and guidelines in this regard. Probably due to the adjourn of the many centres and perhaps also translators that were formerly active in the camp such as Frauenzentrum, Youth clubs and the Gebraucht Kleiderkammer. However, Museum Friedland is open to the visitors especially the refugees there.

I asked Solin what information she had about Corona and how they dealt with that during their migratory journey. She simply shrugged and said that Corona was of no concern. I inquired the reason and she replied: “among all those anguishes, Corona was the least thing to harm us. We were lifeless for a long while, we had thirst and hunger for days and we were close to death already. We were disrespected and insulted because according to the police we were illegal. It did not matter if Corona killed us”.

Outbreak of COVID-19 in Friedland Camp
Based on the latest news acquired from Friedland camp (dated on 16 June), everybody in the team was happy that no cases of Corona infection have been identified in the camp and we were on our way to join the “I Feel” exhibition there. Unfortunately, yesterday (24 June 2020) some news broke announcing the identification of some Corona cases in Friedland camp[4]. It was hard to believe that within a few days the virus found its way there. To ensure, I contacted with a social worker in the camp; the cases were identified among asylum seekers (Spätaussiedler und Asylsuchende). “All have been tested. The Caritas’ employees are doing home office again and tomorrow will be tested too. As far as I have seen everybody is doing quite well though.”, she explained.

Maliheh Bayat Tork

[1] @hamiorg

[2] https://euobserver.com/migration/145757

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/15/refugees-in-german-centre-fear-lack-of-protection-as-covid-19-cases-soar

[4] https://www.hna.de/welt/corona-ausbruch-grenzdurchgangslager-friedland-landkreis-goettingen-zr-13808746.html

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