From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Refugees in Balkans at Higher Risk from Coronavirus

Days prior to the intensifying of the coronavirus outbreak, one of Europe’s biggest stories was the emergence of another refugee crisis. Focused on the Greek island of Lesbos, unrest had erupted as thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan and Syria crossed Greece’s border with Turkey.

As their plight becomes yesterday’s news, what will become of the tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, currently believed to be in the Balkans?

In Bosnia, as the country’s citizens self-isolate at home and a state of emergency has been introduced, many refugees there are none the wiser. According to a report by Balkan Insight, some 2500 refugees do not even have a place in temporary reception centres in the country. This means they often resort to living in squalid, unsanitary conditions with little access to running water, let alone disinfectant or health care.

Many migrants do not know about the current restrictions on movement and risk being trapped in inadequate and unsafe conditions for the foreseeable future.

In Greece, where 15 deaths from Coronavirus have been reported so far, there are calls to evacuate refugee camps. Measures imposed by the government to prevent the spread of the virus are often unrealistic for the 40,000 people living there. Confined to cramped and dirty conditions, social distancing and even hand washing is not always possible

While no cases of Coronavirus have been reported yet in the camps on the Greek islands, it is only a matter of time before the first positive diagnosis emerges.

On Sunday, a video was shared on social media of refugees in Albania, sitting on the street during the 40-hour nationwide lockdown. 

The video shows members of the armed forces that were patrolling the streets, handing them food to eat. It is not known if they were offered assistance from the state or taken to one of the country’s two detention centres.

Albania’s two detention centres have been criticised in various reports for poor conditions and an “appalling state of hygiene”. A Council of Europe report from 2019 noted that new arrivals were not systematically subjected to a comprehensive medical exemption. A lack of translators for health staff, opening of medical files, and screening for the detection of transmissible diseases was a concern.

The UNHRC then found that conditions at the Karreç centre were unsuitable and detainees did not always get adequate access to healthcare.

This raises significant concerns about the well being of refugees as they try to cross borders, but also their vulnerability to Coronavirus. In Albania, basic healthcare provisions are not in place for those seeking asylum or the right to remain, let alone in the middle of a pandemic.