Urgent action needed on migrants and asylum seekers at risk of COVID-19, says OSCE PA’s Cederfelt

Margareta CederfeltMargareta CederfeltCOPENHAGEN, 3 April 2020 – The coronavirus crisis has added new urgency to addressing the deplorable conditions that many migrants and refugees face in camps and detention facilities across the OSCE area, said OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President Margareta Cederfelt (MP, Sweden) today. She highlighted in particular the situation of the camps on the Greek Aegean islands, which have long been at a critical point.

Individuals are at great risk of contracting the coronavirus in overcrowded camps, she noted, with limited or no access to clean water, sanitation, or health services. 

“Refugee camps and detention facilities for migrants should not be death traps,” Cederfelt said. “Action must be taken to protect the migrants and refugees in all OSCE countries, with an immediate priority on improving sanitation and hygiene, ensuring access to health services, providing basic food distribution, as well as access to hot water and soap. No one is protected until we are all protected.”

Considering the dire situation on the Greek islands, and especially on Lesbos, where the dangerously overcrowded Moria camp is located, Cederfelt called for all vulnerable asylum seekers, including families with children and unaccompanied minors, to be evacuated to facilities on the mainland to ensure social distancing. She applauded Athens for having transferred about 1,000 already, but urged the government to reverse a recent decision to revoke access to public medical care to asylum seekers.

Cederfelt, who serves as chair of the OSCE PA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Migration, noted that the situation on these islands was already intolerable for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, elderly, and the sick, but that the coronavirus adds to the urgent need for action. Last October, the Greek government appealed to the EU to take in a share of unaccompanied minors but only a few have so far responded. The EU had indicated that it would establish an emergency program to help relocate unaccompanied minors but plans have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is the responsibility of governments to protect the public health,” Cederfelt said. “For years, political leaders have failed to address the situation of migrants and refugees on their territory, holding them in overcrowded camps and facilities, hoping that the problem would go away. But now, with the added urgency of the coronavirus, this negligence is inexcusable – we must prevent a humanitarian disaster and take action to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread like wildfire in migrant communities.”

While focus must be placed on the most urgent situations, Cederfelt noted that coronavirus-related challenges exist in all OSCE countries that are hosting migrants and refugees.

She stressed that one of the most critical steps that can be taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is to relieve overcrowding in detention facilities across Europe and the United States. Calling for international co-operation and solidarity, she urged increased efforts to relocate unaccompanied minors in particular. “We must work together to press forward with relocation and family reunion programmes for unaccompanied minors,” Cederfelt said.

She noted that the protection of human rights of refugees includes the right to seek asylum and protection from non-refoulement. Governments should not suspend the right to seek asylum or send people back to countries where they face persecution or threats, she said.

Cederfelt is an OSCE PA Vice-President and Deputy Head of the Swedish Delegation. She was appointed by President George Tsereteli (MP, Georgia) as Acting Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration in January.

Last month, the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on South East Europe, British parliamentarian Mark Pritchard, visited Athens and highlighted the humanitarian crisis that the country is facing, stressing that Europe needs to accept responsibility in assisting Greece with humanitarian challenges in relation to the management of migration flows.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

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