Press releases, 30.09.2020

Switzerland responded immediately with emergency aid following a fire which devastated the refugee transit camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Over several weeks, Swiss Humanitarian Aid focused on access to safe drinking water, medical support in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and disaster risk reduction. It also dispatched five tonnes of relief supplies to the facility. Switzerland is ending its emergency aid activities on Wednesday 30 September, having restored access to clean drinking water for 10,000 people. It will continue its support in the form of medium and long-term assistance.

For almost three weeks Swiss Humanitarian Aid, which is part of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), was involved in efforts to assist refugees and migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos. A large fire destroyed the Moria camp on Wednesday 9 September, leaving thousands of people without shelter, food or drinking water.

Emergency facilities and drinking water
Swiss aid initially focused on providing basic necessities. "Switzerland responded quickly to the fire and immediately offered humanitarian aid to the Greek government. The main aim was to swiftly ensure appropriate shelter, care and protection for the migrants and refugees," explained Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, head of the FDFA.

Between 11 and 15 September, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) transported five tonnes of aid equipment to the small Aegean island, including tents, generators, water tanks, water treatment and distribution kits, and other relief supplies. It also delivered 40,000 face masks to the main hospital of Lesbos to help protect against the COVID-19 virus. Experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) were also deployed on site to assist with assessing and responding to the humanitarian needs.

The Greek authorities quickly started work on a new temporary registration and identification centre, which was operational just one week after the blaze. This centre houses around 10,000 refugees and migrants.

Switzerland subsequently offered its expertise in the fields of water and risk analysis. The SHA specialists were involved in restoring access to drinking water in the new centre and participated in monitoring and sanitation operations. With support from disaster risk reduction experts in Switzerland, a site planning expert conducted an assessment of the risks facing the new camp, such as high winds and flooding. Hazard maps were then submitted to the local authorities.

Longer-term support for water and health
SDC Deputy Director General Manuel Bessler, delegate for humanitarian aid and head of the SHA, visited the Lesbos camp on Tuesday 29 September to meet with actors on the ground and get a clear picture of the current situation. On Wednesday 30 September he is meeting with the Swiss ambassador to Greece, Olaf Kjelsen, and Greece's Vice Minister for Migration Giorgos Koumoutsakos, as well as other officials in Athens.

"We provided emergency aid because this is one of the areas we specialise in. We were rapidly on the ground with our skills and expertise. Now it is time to hand over our work to the aid agencies and NGOs," he said. "We want to support our partners and the Greek authorities in this immense challenge, and this is why Switzerland will remain committed to Lesbos after its emergency aid operation."

With Swiss Humanitarian Aid's emergency intervention coming to an end on 30 September, most SHA experts will leave the island of Lesbos on 1 October. Switzerland will then continue its support in the form of medium and long-term assistance.

Swiss Humanitarian Aid's activities in relation to water will initially be transferred to the International Rescue Committee, an NGO also present on the ground. In addition, a water expert from the SHA has been seconded for one month to support the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in this field, in consultation with the Greek authorities.

Swiss Humanitarian Aid will continue its support at the main hospital of Lesbos. Preparations are under way for the delivery of additional personal protective equipment against COVID-19. A disbursement of CHF 250,000 for the hospital is also planned under the COVID-19 supplementary credit. This should make it possible to send additional medical equipment (ambulances, measuring instruments) which will benefit both refugees and the local inhabitants of Lesbos.

Further information:

Lesbos: Switzerland provides assistance on the ground and participates in reception of unaccompanied minors, press release (de, fr, it), FDFA, 11.09.2020
News articles – Interview with Manuel Bessler

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