Intended for healthcare professionals


Europe’s migrant containment policies threaten the response to covid-19

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 26 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m1213

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The world’s largest refugee camp prepares for covid-19

  1. Sally Hargreaves, assistant professor in global health1,
  2. Bernadette N Kumar, professor2,
  3. Martin McKee, professor of European public health3,
  4. Lucy Jones, director of programmes4,
  5. Apostolos Veizis, director of the Medical Operational Support Unit5
  1. 1Institute for Infection and Immunity, St George’s University of London, London, UK
  2. 2Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway
  3. 3Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  4. 4Doctors of the World, London, UK
  5. 5Médecins Sans Frontières, Athens, Greece
  1. Correspondence to: S Hargreaves s.hargreaves{at}

Policy makers must include migrant camps in their national plans

The world has watched the growing global health crisis caused by covid-19 with alarm, fear, and desperation. One after another, governments, healthcare systems, and individuals are adopting increasingly restrictive measures, with “social distancing” now the norm in most countries. Yet for many people, and especially migrants who have been displaced from their homes, this is not possible.

Several tens of thousands of people are living in migrant camps around the Mediterranean. These are often run well beyond capacity and in suboptimal conditions, including lack of basic infrastructure or hygiene, making them a high risk environment for coronavirus spread. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has called on the Greek government to immediately evacuate its camps, particularly older people and those with chronic diseases, so far without response.1

People held in immigration detention centres are also affected. Demands from 10 refugee and detention charities for UK detainees to be released on public health grounds have been ignored.2 And there are thousands of migrants forcibly detained along the north African coast, intercepted en route to Europe, living in appalling conditions and lacking food, water, and access to healthcare. These are only some of the displaced …

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