Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has condemned the Greek government decision to extend lockdown for migrant camps saying it is using the novel coronavirus pandemic as a pretext.

Greek officials seen before testing newly arrived refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, May 13, 2020.
Greek officials seen before testing newly arrived refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, May 13, 2020. (Reuters)

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has condemned a Greek government decision to extend a lockdown for migrant camps, accusing the authorities of using the coronavirus crisis as a pretext.

The row comes as the country is loosening lockdown measures for the general population, reopening businesses and admitting foreign visitors for the start of the tourist season.

"We can't keep silent any longer," said Marco Sandrone, MSF coordinator on Monday at the Moria camp on Lesbos, one of the most overcrowded in Greece's Aegean islands but where no coronavirus cases have been recorded.

"The reason for the lockdown (in the camps) cannot be linked to public health," he told AFP.

"The people in the camps do not represent a threat," Sandrone said, arguing that on the contrary, they are a population at risk who should be evacuated from the camp as soon as possible.

Instead, they were being kept indoors, with public health concerns being used as a pretext, he said.

"This is extremely dangerous rhetoric" because migrants risk being "even more stigmatised because of the coronavirus," Sandrone said.

READ MORE: Report: Greek police using pandemic as cover to expel asylum seekers

In fact, new arrivals at the camp pose a risk of infection to current residents, he argued.

"If a single person catches the virus here, you can be sure that the whole camp is going to die," said Nasrin Hassani, an Afghan refugee at Moria who is eight months pregnant.

"Because there are not enough doctors, there is not enough equipment to control anything," she told AFP.

Greece's announcement that it was extending the coronavirus lockdown at its migrant camps until July 5, cancelling plans to lift the measures on Monday, coincided with World Refugee Day on Saturday.

READ MORE: Greece to remove migrant support groups from camps

Fourth extension

It was the fourth extension of the camp lockdowns, announced just hours after a demonstration in Athens by around 2,000 people denouncing the treatment of migrants by the government of conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Greece, with 190 coronavirus deaths recorded to date, has so far not been as badly hit as some other European countries — and there have been no deaths in the migrant camps.

But the presence of more than 32,000 asylum seekers on the five Aegean islands has caused major friction with local communities. The island camps have a total nominal capacity of only 5,400 people.

Another 7,000 migrants have been transferred to the mainland.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies