The Greek government is “downplaying” the risks of lead contamination in the refugee camp on Lesbos, according to Human Rights Watch.
The group is calling for further comprehensive testing at the Mavrovouni camp after results revealed that one area had particularly high levels of lead contamination.
About 21,000 sq m of the former military camp adapted to accommodate refugees in September last year had previously been used as a firing range, raising concerns about the potential for lead exposure.
About 7,000 people, including thousands of children, live in the temporary camp, which is now five months old and was built after the nearby Moria camp went up in flames last September.
After calls for transparency, Greek authorities released the test results of 12 soil samples taken from the camp, also known as new Kara Tepe, one of which showed 2,233 milligrams of lead a kilogram. The normal limit for residential areas in Greece is 500 milligrams a kilogram.
The authorities have stated that this sample was found in an “administrative” zone for NGO workers and is not in a “residential” area. The government said that it was taking a series of measures to mitigate any contamination, including adding new soil in the affected zone. It has issued assurances that it poses no significant risk.
However, in light of the findings, Human Rights Watch says urgent further comprehensive testing of the entire site is essential. The organisation said that camp residents have been seen queueing up in the administrative area to access NGO services and that residents must also be informed about the health risks of lead exposure.
The group also noted that since children have been spotted playing across the site, including in the area of the former firing range, it would be more appropriate to measure the findings against the acceptable levels for lead in Greek playgrounds, which is 100 milligrams a kilogram.
Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that while the Greek government had taken some positive measures, more needed to be done.
“The steps of testing and transparency are incredibly important and are moving in the right direction,” she said. “That said, we are deeply concerned that the government is undermining that transparency by misrepresenting what the results show, and they are not warning camp residents and aid workers of the risks that they continue to face in the camp.”
Wille also said that the European commission, which has contributed significant funds to the Lesbos camp, should press Greek authorities into further action.
“Until further testing takes place, there is no way for anyone living or working in the Mavrovouni camp to know whether they are at risk or not,” she said. “That should be a matter of concern to the European commission as well as Greek authorities.”