The European Commission is working with Greece on an emergency plan in case the coronavirus pandemic takes hold in overcrowded camps on Greek islands, the E.U. executive said on Tuesday.
The response followed warnings from European Parliament lawmakers and human rights groups that the 42,000 asylum seekers crammed into camps meant to hold just 6,000 were at risk from COVID-19.
So far, Greece has not detected any coronavirus infections in the camps set up on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros, and Kos.
The country has registered 695 cases, including two in the Greek community on Lesbos, and 17 deaths.
Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz told reporters by video link the institution was “working with the Greek authorities on assisting and preparing an emergency response plan to deal with a potential outbreak of the coronavirus on the islands.”
He said Greece was already taking temperatures of new arrivals to the camps, stopping visits and enforcing hygiene rules to try to prevent an outbreak.
Lawmakers on the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee sent a letter on Monday to the E.U. commissioner for crisis management asking for the overcrowded camps to be evacuated.
“If the E.U. fails to take immediate action, the situation on the Greek islands will become unmanageable with the risk of many deaths,” the letter said.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday led calls from a group of 21 rights groups demanding Greece “immediately reduce congestion” in the camps.
“International human rights law requires that the health needs of asylum seekers and migrants be addressed” and that any virus-related restrictions be “lawful, necessary and proportionate as well as non-discriminatory,” their statement said.