Refugee camps and COVID-19: Can we prevent a humanitarian crisis?

Hanne Dahl Vonen1, Merete Lan Olsen, Sara Soraya Eriksen, Signe Smith Jervelund and Terje Andreas Eikemo



In this brief article, the authors argue that refugee camps pose a serious threat to the health of their residents, especially during a pandemic. For example, the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, currently Europe’s largest refugee camp, suffers from overcrowding (accommodating 20,000 refugees in transit facilities built for 3,000), insufficient amenities, poor sanitary conditions, and inadequate health services. In these conditions, it is impossible to adhere to WHO’s public health recommendations regarding social distancing, hand hygiene, and self-isolation. Moreover, the refugee population has a high prevalence of existing conditions, a risk factor for acute COVID-19 disease. The authors call for:

  • More permanent infrastructure capable of meeting the needs of refugees arriving in camps, with greater attention to hygiene and access to essential health care, including
    mental health services;
  • Inclusion of migrants and refugees living in camps in the broader public health measures
    applied to citizens; and
  • Public-health information that is accessible and understandable to the refugee