The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened already dire conditions for pregnant people in overcrowded reception centers for migrants and asylum seekers on Greek islands.
Highlighting the situation’s urgency, the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Greece to ensure adequate health care and living conditions for one pregnant woman living in Pyli Reception Center on Kos Island.
Pyli and other reception centers remain desperately overcrowded despite the government’s April commitment to transfer some migrants to the mainland. As of May 25, nearly 33,000 people were held in sites with capacity for around 6,000. Pyli holds nearly three times its capacity.
Even before Covid-19 measures were put in place, the Greek government was not meeting international standards for health care, nutrition, and bedding for migrant pregnant people and new mothers. Heavily pregnant women in Moria Reception Center on Lesbos told me about sleeping in overcrowded tents on ground lined only with thin mats or blankets, struggling to reach toilets over rough terrain, and being returned to these conditions within days of caesarean births.
Reported reallocation of limited maternal health services in the Moria Reception Center due to Covid-19 could be devastating. In certain past disease outbreaks, diversion of reproductive health services contributed to increased maternal deaths.
Since late March, the Greek government has arbitrarily detained newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers on the mainland – including pregnant and other “vulnerable” people – and kept them in lockdown in cramped, unsanitary, and unhygienic conditions in reception centers. This flouts public health measures and recommendations for containment of Covid-19. While lifting general lockdown measures, with shops opening and older students returning to classrooms, the government extended lockdown in reception centers until June 7.
Evidence regarding Covid-19 and pregnancy is limited, with much still unknown. While pregnant people don’t appear to be at higher risk, the World Health Organization notes they can be badly affected by some respiratory infections and advises them to take protective measures. This is impossible in reception center conditions.
The Greek government should implement the European Court’s order in Pyli, but also go further to ensure adequate living conditions and health care for all pregnant people in migrant hotspots. It should also ensure decongestion and hygienic conditions for all residents of these sites before it’s too late.