Greece is tightening controls on its sea border with Turkey following rumors of a plot to send migrants infected with the novel coronavirus to Greek shores. Due to the extreme sensitivity of the issue, officials in Athens have maintained a cautious stance.
Alternate Minister for Migration George Koumoutsakos has said that all new arrivals will be placed in quarantine, adding that Athens is taking Ankara’s repeated threats to “open the floodgates” seriously. That is the approach of the Greek government, regardless of whether there is a deliberate plan behind any fresh inflows.
Shipping and Island Policy Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis, meanwhile, reiterated concerns that smugglers will use decommissioned tankers to transport larger numbers of refugees and migrants to Greece, as was the case with one vessel that ran aground off the island of Kea last month.
Whether or not an organized plan is afoot, the threat posed by mass arrivals is very real and is made all the more challenging by the health crisis. Greece will be called upon to treat all new arrivals as potential coronavirus carriers and this means putting them in quarantine for 14 days, with everything that entails in terms of the pressure it will put on existing facilities and on the need to create new ones.
We got a small taste of what that means from the Kea incident, where a team of experts from the National Organization for Public Health (EODY) had to test the Turkish tanker’s 190 passengers.
In this context alone, even the prospect of arrivals at the same flows we've seen up until now is cause for very well-founded fears. Plans are already in the pipeline to transfer more than 2,000 migrants and refugees who are considered particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 because of their age or state of health from island camps to hotels and apartments on the mainland.
Greece has also started creating new reception facilities. Some, however, have been closed because of quarantine measures, while it is not entirely clear how the others will operate in this new and perilous environment.
There are no easy solutions to what is a complex equation with potentially dangerous consequences.