In its current vaccination plan, Greece is marginalizing migrants and asylum seekers, even though they are particularly at risk as they remain stuck in vulnerable, impoverished, and overcrowded conditions, often without proper accommodation, water, sanitation facilities and access to healthcare.
Since its beginning, the Covid-19 pandemic has been used extensively as an excuse to harden migration policies across Europe; closing internal and external borders, increasing xenophobic practices, criminalizing solidarity, and restricting migrants’ right to access asylum.
Eventually, in many EU countries, the consequences of the pandemic for people on the move have been more harmful than the virus itself.
A month ago, 13 men, women and children currently residing in a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos were beaten, robbed and forced onto a life raft by “uniformed operatives” who claimed they were being taken for Covid-19 testing. The Greek government denied the alarming allegations without providing any further explanation of the evidence collected by the aid group Aegean Boat Report.
The Greek government promised to include refugees and asylum seekers in its vaccination strategy but until now has not provided any further guarantees nor clarity. Recently, Aristotelia Peloni, a government spokesperson, stated in a news conference that migrants are not a priority and that “others have priority, mainly elders (…) and vulnerable groups that will soon be added into the program regardless of age”.
Yet the EU Commission in a list of priority groups to be vaccinated first included inter alia persons whose state of health makes them particularly at risk, persons who cannot socially distance, and more disadvantaged socio-economic groups. People on the move figure in all these three categories.
Migrants living in refugee camps are more susceptible to Covid-19 than the general Greek population, because of the overcrowdings, the impossibility to keep social distancing, the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and the restricted access to healthcare. Especially now that people older than age 85, health workers and authorities have been vaccinated, it is vital to ensure that migrants get access to vaccination alongside the Greek population.The rights to health and non-discrimination are intertwined, fundamental and indispensable to guarantee the success of vaccination plans and to overcome the pandemic.“In the past year, the pandemic and its impacts have aggravated pre-existing conditions of social exclusion. Now, the unequal distribution of vaccines normalizes policies that discriminate among equally fragile individuals” said Michela Pugliese, Legal Researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor, “Inequality and discrimination harm as much as the virus.
Euro-Med Monitor calls on Greece to clarify its national vaccination strategy regarding migrants and to guarantee that people experiencing social exclusion and health vulnerabilities or living in high-risk situations, like people on the move, including undocumented migrants, receive immediate access to vaccination.
Euro-Med Monitor calls on the European Union to ensure that the Covid-19 vaccinations are handled as a humanitarian and international matter, in a coordinated approach and with extreme care, inclusion, accessibility and transparency, so that any vulnerable person is prioritized, regardless of his/her citizenship or story.