In the framework of an unprecedented coincidence, with the end of the restrictive measures of the free movement of all other citizens in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, on 19/5/2020 the Council of Ministers declared the so-called First Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers Pournara as an infested area because of scabies, with the Minister of Health having first classified scabies as one of the dangerous infectious diseases. On 20/5/2020, with a new decree, the Minister of Health prohibited the entry and exit to and from the Centre of anybody other than those working there but also of the newly entering asylum seekers, for an indefinite period. The decree has no expiry date.
KISA expresses its reservations in principle as to whether the Centre has indeed been infested with scabies. According to many detainees at the centre, they have no information of scabies cases and neither have they been visited by doctors to inform or examine them for it. In view of this, it cannot be ruled out that the government, using its well-trodden practice during the restrictive measures for the pandemic and using it as a pretext, in violation of all rights of asylum seekers and with racist and discriminative policies, has imposed its arbitrary decisions to transfer hundreds of asylum seekers from other places and to actually detain them at the Pournara centre.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “scabies occurs worldwide. However, it is the most vulnerable groups – young children and the elderly in resource-poor communities – who are especially susceptible to scabies and the secondary complications of infestation. The highest rates of infestation occur in countries with hot, tropical climates, especially in communities where overcrowding and poverty coexist, and where there is limited access to treatment.” WHO also adds, among others, that “refugee or internally displaced person camps are at particularly high risk, as the overcrowding typically present in the camps increases skin to skin contact between infested and uninfested individuals.” The government is not only not moving asylum seekers from the said Centre in view of the new claimed infectious disease so as to ensure the health of the detained asylum seekers and the proper medical care of those infected but, by enlisting the not competent Minister of Health to illegally decree the detention of asylum seekers, allows the entry of only newly entering asylum seekers. In other words, it also puts new persons in immediate danger of infection.
KISA has repeatedly condemned the inhuman, humiliating and degrading conditions at the Pournara Centre and has denounced its being turned to a Centre of illegal and arbitrary detention of asylum seekers. It regrets to observe that this policy has been assisted by the vague if not altogether absent criticism of independent authorities and more particularly of the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights.
KISA has already publically denounced the report laundering the government by the Commissioner of Administration and Human Rights and especially in her capacity as the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Commissioner has very recently expressed her satisfaction and hastened to inform the relevant international bodies for the immediate, in her view, response of the government for the “improvement” works at Pournara.
KISA denounces that, if the story about scabies is indeed true, it is the government itself that through its policies has created the conditions for the onset of the infection at Pournara, which operates with no regulatory or legal framework, in overcrowded conditions unsuitable for long-term stay and without essential and effective access by the detained asylum seekers to medical care or to their human rights and decent reception conditions.
KISA calls on all human rights organisations and citizens, every single one of whom have recently experienced restrictions of their free movement but whose conditions, however, cannot be compared to those at the Pournara detention centre, to condemn this policy and to protest against the violations of the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
KISA calls on the state –
- To publicise scientific and epidemiological substantiated findings on the scabies infestation of the Pournara Centre.
- To terminate the detention policy of asylum seekers at the Pournara and Kofinou Centres, to terminate its illegal policy of transferring new asylum seekers there and to ensure that both Centres are decongested, through the integration of asylum seekers and refugees in the wider community under conditions of equal treatment, especially in relation to the right of free movement, access to information and legal advice as provided for by the Refugee law.
- To close the Pournara Camp until it is ensured that the required changes for decent living and effective access to health services by the detainees are carried out.