Contamination tests show no threat to Lesvos migrants, says minister

Contamination tests show no threat to Lesvos migrants, says minister

Lead pollution tests at a temporary migrant camp built on a former army firing range on the island of Lesvos showed no threat to safety, Greece's migration minister said on Thursday, after concerns over toxic waste were raised by rights groups.

A report from Human Rights Watch last year said the site, built after the sprawling Moria migrant camp on Lesvos burnt down last year, could pose a serious health risk because of contamination from spent ammunition under the soil.

In response, officials tested 12 soil samples from the camp in November. Results released this week showed 11 samples had pollution levels within permitted European Union guidelines, while the 12th was over the limit.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said all samples from residential areas were within permitted levels. The sample that exceeded them was from an administrative area of the camp, and was under the maximum for industrial areas.

"It is very clear there is no problem with lead within the residential area. The problem is outside the perimeter," he said, adding that further tests could be conducted.

The tests were carried out after Human Rights Watch criticized Greece, which has struggled to cope with tens of thousands of migrants from conflict zones in Syria, Africa and Afghanistan, for failing to conduct lead testing or soil remediation before opening the site.

Eva Cossé, a Human Rights Watch researcher, welcomed the tests but said clear risks remained in the administrative areas, where many staff worked.

"These are areas where migrants, asylum seekers spend the day waiting to get services, including children," she said, adding that more tests were needed given the risk to people permanently exposed to ambient dust particles.

"It's very dangerous, particularly for children under five. They play in the dust, they put their hands in their mouth and they can easily absorb lead."

Mitarakis said a permanent replacement was planned for the Mavrovouni camp, which had been built swiftly to address the urgent threat to the thousands living in Moria. [Reuters]

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