Vaccinations against COVID-19 in islands refugee camps kick off
The vaccination of asylum-seekers on the islands started on 3 June on Lesvos, Samos and Chios.
In Leros and Kos, vaccinations have yet to start mainly due to the low number of registered, eligible people. UNHCR, along with IOM and other organizations, supported the Ministry of Health in raising awareness about and coordinating the vaccination process. UNHCR worked with members of the refugee communities living in the reception and identification centres on the Greek Aegean islands, particularly those with a medical or paramedical background, to circulate information about COVID-19 and the vaccination and disseminate messages through various online platforms and meetings.
On mainland camps, the authorities have started a dedicated vaccination campaign until the temporary number for vaccination (PAMKA) becomes available to all those who do not have a social or health security number. UNHCR provides technical advice to the Government to ensure that all categories of asylum-seekers or refugees can have access to vaccines through this number.
Confinement as a result of movement restriction due to COVID-19 can exacerbate vulnerable refugees’ already burdened mental health. In Athens, UNHCR and its partners train refugees and asylum-seekers as paraprofessionals to address psychosocial needs. They operate helplines in Arabic, English, Farsi and Greek, offer psychosocial support and information about COVID-19, liaise with protection services, and provide referrals to psychological or psychiatric specialists.
Stronger efforts are needed to ensure that refugee inclusion in the national vaccination plan is tangible. UNHCR advocates for the equitable and timely inclusion of all third country nationals in the vaccination scheme, regardless of their legal status, including undocumented people as many of them are homeless or living in precarious conditions where physical distancing is impossible to observe. Tele-interpretation in vaccination centres may also help increase refugees’ confidence in the process and lead to higher enrolment and vaccination.