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Belgrade Media Report 24 March 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Tuesday 24 March 2020

LOCAL PRESS

Twenty-one years since the NATO bombing without UN Security Council approval (B92/Tanjug)
Vulin: NATO crime was the last crime in the XX century that had gone unpunished (Beta/Tanjug)
Vucic: Change in approach in fighting coronavirus; very possible that we isolate Belgrade (Tanjug/RTS/B92)
Gojkovic denies request for parliament session (FoNet/RTV)
Djuric: We are not interested in Pristina’s games of throne (Politika)
Ljajic: 10 million masks arriving from China this week (RTS)
A total of 301 infected people in Serbia (RTS/Tanjug)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

B&H has 150 COVID-19 cases, Security Minister wants airport closed (N1)
New four COVID-19 cases registered in Konjic (Klix.ba)
FB&H Civil Protection Crisis Headquarters discusses adoption of special regulation that would tighten measures for those who violate orders on self-isolation or curfew (BHT1)
No new cases of COVID-19 reported in RS (RTRS)
Dodik: Introduction of harsher measures to tackle Coronavirus necessary (ATV)
Quarantine for citizens who are not complying with prescribed measures of self-isolation to be formed in Bijeljina (BHT1)
Quarantine tents at border crossings in B&H ready for use (RTRS)
Radoncic holds video-conference with representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations in B&H on current situation and B&H’s needs in fight against coronavirus (BHT1)
Inzko: State budget a priority for stopping COVID-19 (Oslobodjenje)
Croatia

In Croatia, 361 infected with coronavirus, six of them on the respirators (N1)
Sunday’s earthquake claims its first victim (HRT)
Montenegro

In Montenegro, 29 infected with a coronavirus, 938 are quarantined (CDM)
Camaj: Albanians negotiate joint run in parliamentary elections in Montenegro (Dan)
Republic of North Macedonia

Varhelyi: EU approves opening of negotiations with North Macedonia, Albania (MIA)
Twelve new coronavirus cases registered, total tally hits 148 (MIA)
Government restricts movement of teenagers, senior citizens to fight coronavirus spread (MIA/TV24)
Filipche: Coronavirus outbreak will be over after two incubation cycles without new cases (MIA)
Army members deployed to guard vital public locations (MIA)
Albania

Coronavirus cases surge to 123 in Albania (ADN)
COVID-19 and international assistance to Albania (Tirana Times)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Serbia blasts NATO’s 1999 aggression as crime against humanity (TASS)
Could Trump Spark a New Balkan Ethnic War? (The New Republic)
Only a matter of time’: Greek migrant camps brace for coronavirus outbreak (Politico)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Twenty-one years since the NATO bombing without UN Security Council approval (B92/Tanjug)

 

Today is 21 years since the start of NATO air strikes on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The sirens were heard for 78 days and the total number of casualties was never determined. An estimated 1,200 to 2,500 people were killed in the 11 weeks, with total material damage estimated at tens of billions of dollars. The attack on Serbia, or the FRY, was carried out without UN Security Council approval, which was a precedent. The order was then issued by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana to the then commander of the Allied Forces, US General Wesley Clark. Clark later wrote in the book “Modern Warfare” that the planning of NATO’s air operation against the FRY “was well underway in mid-June 1998” and was completed by the end of August that year. After the Serbian parliament confirmed that it did not accept the decision on foreign troops in its territory and suggested that United Nations forces monitor the peace settlement of the conflict in Kosovo, NATO launched air strikes with cruise missiles and aviation at several places on 24th of March, 1999 at 19.45 in Serbia and Montenegro. Nineteen Alliance countries have launched bombing operations from ships in the Adriatic, and from four air bases in Italy. First, the air defense and other objects of the Yugoslav Army were targeted, in Pristina, Batajnica, Rakovica (Strazevica), Mladenovac and elsewhere. According to the Serbian government, at least 2,500 people were killed in the bombing, out of which 89 were children (according to some sources, the total number of deaths was almost 4,000), and more than 12,500 people were wounded and injured. Recently released official data from the Serbian Ministry of Defense register about 1,008 killed soldiers and police officers. Total material damage was then estimated at $ 100 billion. NATO’s wartime losses in manpower and technology have never been made public. The authorities in Belgrade at the time claimed that dozens of aircraft had been knocked down, which was never confirmed. Russia’s APN reported that NATO lost over 400 troops and over 60 aircraft, while US President Bill Clinton said in a 10th of June, 1999 speech that NATO had suffered “no casualties”. The Belgrade Aviation Museum holds the remains of crashed F-117, F-16 planes, drones, cruise missiles…There is almost no city in Serbia that was not targeted during the 11 weeks of the attack. The bombing destroyed and damaged 25.000 housing units, disabling 470 kilometers of roads and 595 kilometers of railway tracks. Fourteen airports, 19 hospitals, 20 health centers, 18 kindergartens, 69 schools, 176 cultural monuments and 44 bridges were also damaged, while 38 bridges were destroyed. During the aggression, 2,300 air strikes were carried out at 995 facilities across the country, and 1,150 fighter jets launched close to 420,000 missiles with a total mass of 22,000 tons. NATO launched 1,300 cruise missiles, delivered 37,000 “cluster bombs”, killing about 200 people and injuring hundreds, and using banned ammunition with depleted uranium. A third of the country’s power capacity was destroyed, two refineries in Pancevo and Novi Sad were bombed, and NATO forces first used so-called graphite bombs to disable the power system. After continuous diplomatic pressures, the bombing ended with the signing of the Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo on 9th of June, 1999, and followed by the withdrawal of the FRY forces from Kosovo and Metohija three days later. Since the NATO Secretary General issued an order to end the bombing on 10th of June, 1999, final missiles have fallen in the area of the village of Kololec (not far from Kosovska Kamenica) at 1.30 pm. On that day, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, and 37,200 KFOR troops from 36 countries were sent to the province, tasked with safeguarding peace, security the return of refugees until broad autonomous status was defined.

 

Forum: NATO Aggression was and still is a crime against peace

NATO’s aggression against Serbia 21 years ago was and remains a crime against peace and humanity because the action was carried out without the approval of the UN Security Council and is a gross violation of the UN Charter, the OSCE Final Document and its own Founding Act, the Belgrade Forum for the World of Equals estimated on the occasion of marking the anniversary of the beginning of the NATO bombing of the then FRY. “The aggression and subsequent occupation of Kosovo and Metohija, the illegal establishment of camp Bondsteel, one of the largest US military bases in the world, the unilateral declaration of UN-mandated territory, gross violation of UNSCR 1244, represent dangerous precedents, severe blows to European and the global security system, as well as encouraging the spread of separatism and terrorism with unprecedented consequences,” the Belgrade Forum said in a statement. It is alleged that the Forum, the General and Admiral Club of Serbia and the United Youth Foundation sent a letter of protest to the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee on the initiative to award the prize to NATO. The aforementioned organizations also believe that the authorities ask NATO countries for compensation for war damage, to list all victims of aggression as soon as possible and to initiate the work of a government body to determine the consequences of using depleted uranium missiles, to establish and build a Serbian memorial for victims of genocide in the 20th century, such as the Yad Vashem Memorial (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) in Israel and the Ararat Memorial in Armenia. They also believe it is time for the governments of NATO and EU member states to reconsider their role in the 1999 aggression and policies against Serbia and the Serbian people, to apologize publicly for the victims and illegal destruction of Serbia (FRY) and to return to the implementation of UNSCR 1244 as the only acceptable, principled basis for a just and sustainable peaceful solution to the future status of Kosovo and Metohija, as a province with broad autonomy within Serbia, the statement said.

 

Vulin: NATO crime was the last crime in the XX century that had gone unpunished (Beta/Tanjug)

 

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin has said that on 24th of March, as was the case 21 years ago during the NATO air strikes, the Serbian people are threatened with extinction and again have to keep together and be united. “Twenty-one years ago, the people, the army and the state were like one family and that is why we survived. Today, 21 years later, faced with coronavirus, we again have to be one family, because it is the only way to survive, so that some could live to remember, to seek justice, to fight, we have to pull through,” Vulin said, according to a release from the Defense Ministry. After laying flowers at the monument of the killed soldiers and patients outside Belgrade hospital Dragisa Misovic, Vulin said that the NATO crime was the last crime in the XX century that had gone unpunished.

 

Vucic: Change in approach in fighting coronavirus; very possible that we isolate Belgrade (Tanjug/RTS/B92)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced on Monday that one more person, aged 60, has died as a result of coronavirus infection at the Dragisa Misovic Clinical Hospital Centre, bringing the total number of deaths of this disease in Serbia to three. Speaking at a press conference, which was also attended by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, the Chinese Ambassador to Serbia, as well as members of the Chinese coronavirus expert team who arrived in our country two days ago, Vucic said that the woman who died did not have a serious clinical condition. Previously, Vucic and Brnabic and members of the Crisis Response Team to Curb Infectious Disease COVID-19, headed by the Prime Minister, as well as the Crisis Response Team to Remove and Prevent Harmful Consequences of Infectious Disease COVID-19 to the Economy, headed by the President of Serbia, held a meeting with the Chinese doctors to discuss the actions taken to date and the future ones, based on Chinese experience. Vucic announced a change in the approach in the fight against coronavirus, which will involve more testing and isolation of patients with lighter symptoms. We will start with mass testing and its drastic increase can be expected in 48 hours, Vucic stated and added that there are enough test kits for the first days of the drastic increase and that in the meantime we will get new tests and personnel for mass testing. Owing to the help of China, but also due to the provision of medical ventilators from other sources, Serbia will be among the top 20 countries in the number of these medical devices in proportion to the size of its population in 10 to 15 days, Vucic said. He also announced that next week we will have at least 20 million surgical masks, as we redirected the work of our companies and started manufacturing masks. Asked whether the state is considering the possibility of isolating cities and regions after the consultation with Chinese experts, he said that it was considered to isolate Belgrade and in particular 10 municipalities that are the focus of the epidemic. As soon as that becomes necessary, we will do it, Vucic stated and added that as of now, all measures will be taken in consultation with Chinese specialists.

 

Chen Bo announces additional assistance from China

Chinese Ambassador to Serbia Chen Bo thanked the President of Serbia for Serbia’s confidence in China and their experts. She said that Chinese experts have already visited some of the important institutions in Serbia, and that China will send additional assistance to Serbia.

“The main part of the Chinese government’s assistance has arrived in Belgrade, the rest will arrive within the week,” Chen Bo said.

 

Gojkovic denies request for parliament session (FoNet/RTV)

 

Serbian parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic said on Monday that parliament could not meet because of the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people which the government ordered as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. A group of opposition MPs filed a written request on 23 March for parliament to meet. Gojkovic refused the request, saying that the state of emergency was called by the state president, prime minister and parliament speaker because she couldn’t call a session of parliament and recalling that measures which limit human and minority rights can be taken by the government with the approval of the president when parliament can’t meet. She said that under the Constitution, a decision on a state of emergency is confirmed 48 hours after it is taken if parliament can’t confirm it. If parliament does not confirm the decision, it becomes invalid once parliament meets, the Constitution states.

 

Djuric: We are not interested in Pristina’s games of throne (Politika)

 

Instead of Pristina dealing with a chase after posts, it should at least deal a little with the coronavirus, before endangering human lies, the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric told Politika in comment to the new political crisis among Albanian parties, where the toppling of the government had been announced in the midst of a pandemic. “It is unwise in these times of challenges, from which our compatriots in Kosovo and Metohija have not even been spared, to spend energy on Pristina’s games of the throne. We are not interested in their court intrigues,” said Djuric. He points out that, even if the taxes were abolished completely, this would not have any factual effect over the suspension of the flow of people and goods between Kosovo and Metohija and Serbia proper. Due to shortages of flour and other essential foodstuffs, the Office for Kosovo and Metohija has launched a supply action despite barriers that are officially in place, writes Politika.

 

Ljajic: 10 million masks arriving from China this week (RTS)

 

Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajic told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that pharmacies will get stocked with protective masks this week, and that there are no shortages at all of essential foods. Ljajic stressed that protective masks are not only the most sought-after good in Serbia, but also around the world, stating that the price of one mask in the US has jumped from 60 cents to 7 dollars. He explained that the problem occurred at the global level, because factories in China stopped producing masks when the coronavirus pandemic began, and are only now starting to make them again.

“We expect a new shipment of 10 million masks from China this week. The good news is that local manufacturers have started production. I expect masks from China in pharmacies this week and this will not be the only delivery. We expect commercial deliveries from China as well,” Ljajic explained. When it comes to tropical and citrus fruits, he indicated that there will certainly be slowdowns in the supply chain and perhaps price increases due to higher demand, as well as the price of transport. “Passenger traffic is suspended, but not the transport of goods,” he added.

Regarding the news about the seizure by Poland and the Czech Republic of medical equipment intended for Italy, Ljajic said he saw the news, but that it seemed too surreal to him.

 

A total of 301 infected people in Serbia (RTS/Tanjug)

 

According to the latest date, another 54 people have been infected with the coronavirus in Serbia, a total of 301 cases. Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar has announced that 15 people have been cured from the virus. According to the latest information, 21 people are on ventilators.

Yesterday samples were taken from 61 people, 27 of which came back positive while 34 tested negative for the new coronavirus. Of the 27 confirmed cases since the last report, 19 have been hospitalized in stable general condition, while eight have a mild clinical picture and are at home.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

B&H has 150 COVID-19 cases, Security Minister wants airport closed (N1)

 

The Health Minister of Bosnia’s Serb-majority region said on Tuesday morning that another 13 people, including a surgeon, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday morning, which means that Bosnia now has 150 confirmed coronavirus cases. He said the surgeon caught the virus outside of the of the hospital and that he was not in contact with any other health workers.

Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic requested the Sarajevo airport to be closed down. “That should be done immediately,” he told the media, urging relevant authorities to make sure to close it for passengers but not for cargo. A 53-year-old man has passed away from coronavirus-related pneumonia, authorities in Herzegovina-Neretva Canton said on Tuesday.

 

New four COVID-19 cases registered in Konjic (Klix.ba)

 

Late on Monday night media reported that Konjic Civil Protection has confirmed the information that four new COVID-19 patients, have been confirmed in Konjic. The Civil Protection stated that 14 samples were tested during the day (Monday) and four were confirmed positive. With this Konjic becomes the second ranked city in B&H in number of infected people. This morning first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Siroki Brijeg.

 

FB&H Civil Protection Crisis Headquarters discusses adoption of special regulation that would tighten measures for those who violate orders on self-isolation or curfew (BHT1)

 

The Federation of B&H (FB&H) Civil Protection Crisis Headquarters convened on

Monday announcing introduction of new measures. Director of the FB&H Civil Protection Administration Fahrudin Solak said that if there is sudden increase in the number of people infected with coronavirus, one will place districts, cities or cantons under quarantine, not excluding the possibility that Sarajevo International Airport will be closed for passenger traffic. “There were certain airplanes today (Monday) because our airport in Sarajevo is the only one that is receiving and the only one that is open in the region. Therefore, we are becoming transit for Serbia and Montenegro,” Solak underlined. Another measure that was discussed at Monday’s session of the FB&H Civil Protection Crisis Headquarters was adoption of a special regulation that would tighten measures for those who violate orders on self-isolation or curfew. FB&H Prime Minister Fadil Novalic stated that the FB&H government will be in constant session as long as the state of disaster is in place in the FB&H. “At the moment, we are harmonizing a regulation for those who are not complying with orders of relevant bodies, especially those who received orders on self-isolation, but are not complying with them,” Novalic underlined. He also announced that the FB&H government adopted a decision according to which ‘BH Telecom’ will allocate one million BAM for five hospitals in the FB&H. These funds will be used to purchase ventilators and other necessary medical equipment. The FB&H officials underlined that there are enough tests in the FB&H. Assistant Minister of Healthcare of the FB&H Goran Cerkez stressed that 1,500 tests arrived on Monday. “Another 1,500 tests will arrive on Wednesday. We have ordered more than 20,000 tests,” Cerkez said.

 

No new cases of COVID-19 reported in RS (RTRS)

 

No new cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) were confirmed in Republika Srpska (RS) on Monday. So far, 90 people tested positive. 15,578 people are under medical supervision. During her press conference on Monday in Banja Luka, RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic sent a strong message, saying ‘Stay at home, we do not want to experience the same thing that happened in Italy’. It has been 18 days since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the RS. Learning from experience and seeing what happened in China and Italy, the RS authorities adequately prepared for the virus spread, implementing all necessary measures in time, Cvijanovic pointed out. She said that the number of infected persons increases each day and people should be aware there are more people with this virus than confirmed. The numbers are low as there is no way to test all the potential carriers. Some people have mild or almost no symptoms, but they can spread the virus to other people, Cvijanovic warns. She commended all the citizens that follow the rules and measures, adding that those that violate them will be properly sanctioned. “At this moment, the most important thing is to fight against the virus. We can only do that with strict military discipline of all of us. We do not wish to see images in the RS like the ones we saw in Italy,” Cvijanovic emphasized. She called upon the citizens to be responsible as such behavior will help the doctors in the fight against this disease. Cvijanovic reminded that the RS government already initiated the procedure for procurement of a mobile hospital. It will have 500 beds available and it is expected to arrive in the RS within the next ten days. Coronavirus tests are continuously being procured, as well as respirators that are crucial for the most vulnerable patients. Cvijanovic said 25,000 new coronavirus tests will arrive in the RS in the coming days. Cvijanovic thanked the medical staff and the crisis headquarters for carrying the biggest weight of this epidemic. She also thanked Serbia and China for sending aid and support to the RS. Cvijanovic concluded that consequences of the pandemic cannot be measured at this moment, but she underlined that the RS government is working on a set of measures that will help the business community and the renewal of RS economy when all this passes. One of those measures was presented to the public recently. It allows companies and individuals to freeze their credit loans with commercial banks for three months, until they are able to continue repaying the debts. Cvijanovic said this measure will immensely help the citizens but noted that this measure must be followed by preservation of jobs. Fund for aiding the renewal of RS economy will be formed soon and it will be filled with funds from international and domestic sources.

 

Dodik: Introduction of harsher measures to tackle Coronavirus necessary (ATV)

 

Member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated on Monday that RS needs to introduce harsher measures to tackle Coronavirus. He announced that control of exits and entrances to every settlement in the RS will be introduced. “In this way we want to prevent communication among people that is of key important for this type of spreading,” explained Dodik. He emphasized that the RS started energetically to tackle Coronavirus, adding that biggest problem is irresponsibility of individuals which have been jeopardizing majority of people who respect introduced measures.

 

Quarantine for citizens who are not complying with prescribed measures of self-isolation to be formed in Bijeljina (BHT1)

 

The Bijeljina Headquarters for Emergency Situations convened on Monday. Following the meeting, it was stated that quarantine for citizens who are not complying with prescribed measures of self-isolation will be formed in Bijeljina soon. Besides that, expansion of quarantine capacities and preparation of intensive care unit and room for emergency surgeries in quarantine at the hospital in Bijeljina are currently underway. The Bijeljina Headquarters for Emergency Situations reached a decision according to which people older than 65 can leave their homes to buy groceries twice a week. Representatives of the Bijeljina Headquarters for Emergency Situations stressed that condition of three people from Bijeljina who tested positive for coronavirus is stable and they are in home isolation, while slightly more than one thousand people in Bijeljina are currently under medical supervision.

 

Quarantine tents at border crossings in B&H ready for use (RTRS)

 

As of Monday evening, the quarantine tents near the Gradiska border crossing has been made operational. All B&H nationals that arrive in B&H over this border crossing will be placed in a mandatory 14-day isolation in these tents. RTRS reporter spoke with the RS Minister of Health and Social Protection Alen Seranic in one of these tents and the Minister explained how the entire procedure will work. Five quarantine tents have been prepared at this border crossing. They were placed at the location of an old customs terminal because it has all the necessary equipment like electricity and water supply, as well as access to the lavatories. The five tents each have 10 beds which means 50 people can be placed in isolation at one period of time. Seranic explained this measure was necessary as many irresponsible citizens entered the country but ignored the self-quarantine orders. “We had to decide and implement this more restrictive healthcare measure,” Seranic underlined. He also says all those that violate the self-isolation will be transported to the quarantine tents at border crossings, where they will be monitored 24/7 by doctors and members of the RS Ministry of Interior (MoI). Conditions in these tents are “decent” and “adequate for quarantine,” said Seranic, reminding that people had the opportunity to complete their coronavirus isolation at their homes but failed to follow the rules. All the protocols are in place, Seranic assured and added that some decisions will be made based on the given situations. The Minister said pregnant women, mothers with small children and people with disabilities will be accommodated in a facility near the quarantine tents, as they need special care. “We wanted to implement this measure on Friday,” Seranic points and continues: “However, we did not have the confirmations on mutual cooperation with the FB&H and the Brcko District. The truth is that Brcko District contacted us and informed us about the mentioned protocol; we simply have no time to wait any longer, for all things to align, everything is moving way too slow and the intention behind this was to accelerate the process and ensure restrictive measures as soon as possible”. Asked if the FB&H prepared its own quarantine tents at the border crossings, Seranic said he did not receive any information about that and he can only focus on the RS at this moment.

 

Radoncic holds video-conference with representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations in B&H on current situation and B&H’s needs in fight against coronavirus (BHT1)

 

B&H Minister of Security and Head of the B&H Protection and Rescue Coordination Body Fahrudin Radoncic held on Monday a video-conference with representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations in B&H on the current situation and B&H’s needs in the fight against coronavirus. Participants of the video-conference received lists of necessary medical and protective equipment for healthcare institutions in B&H, promising concrete assistance. Head of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H Johann Sattler informed participants of the video-conference that the EU already secured EUR 7 million of assistance for B&H. The Swiss Embassy in B&H also allocated USD 200,000. Radoncic and Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Zoran Tegeltija stated that besides the humanitarian aspect, now it is more important for the EU countries and international partners to enable immediate purchase of ventilators, protective equipment, drugs and other medical equipment and its unhindered delivery to B&H. Meanwhile, B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Bisera Turkovic commented on assistance of other countries and international organizations to B&H for tackling of the Coronavirus situation. She underlined that among others, B&H needs medical assistance. According to Turkovic, a plane is supposed to deliver supplies from Turkey while China already delivered some supplies but “in smaller quantities”. She added that the Chinese Embassy to B&H promised that they will do everything they can at this moment and offered teams of Chinese doctors to come to B&H to help. Turkovic stated that teams of German doctors are expected to come to Gorazde maybe next week, along with the equipment. Furthermore, she explained that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also helps with delivery of two big laboratories with all necessary equipment. According to Turkovic, the IAEA is ready to go further and seek for others ways to help B&H. She went on by saying that Norway and Belgium announced to help B&H, while Qatar also offered to help.

 

Inzko: State budget a priority for stopping COVID-19 (Oslobodjenje)

 

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) issued a press release, stating that the HR Valentin Inzko fully supports coordinated measures taken by the authorities at different levels of government in B&H to fight the coronavirus pandemic. These challenging times have shown that political and institutional leaders are able to effectively work together for the same purpose and that continued close cooperation and coordination and urgent focus on targeted measures can empower B&H authorities at all levels to adequately respond to the crisis and preserve the health of its citizens. “Those measures include, first and foremost, ensuring the uninterrupted, adequate financing and unimpeded functioning of the B&H institutions. To that end, it is the responsibility of the B&H Council of Ministers, the B&H Presidency and the B&H Parliamentary Assembly to promptly adopt a regular state-level budget for 2020. This would remove the limitations arising from temporary financing that can seriously impact B&H’s ability to adequately respond to the COVID-19 crisis or any other extraordinary situation that B&H may confront. The absence of a budget would also affect the ability of the B&H institutions to discharge their constitutional and legal obligations, including the organization of the October 2020 Municipal Elections, as well as numerous other important issues,” said Inzko. The HR also urges citizens to fully follow the instructions of the authorities.

 

In Croatia, 361 infected with coronavirus, six of them on the respirators (N1)

 

There are 361 people infected with coronavirus in Croatia, 46 more than yesterday, Health Minister Vili Beros said at a National Staff press conference on Tuesday. When it comes to the average age of a patient, it is 49.05 years old. 56 percent of the patients are men and 44 are women.

 

Sunday’s earthquake claims its first victim (HRT)

 

The fifteen-year-old girl who suffered serious injuries during Sunday’s earthquake in Zagreb passed away on Monday afternoon. The young girl received serious injuries in her apartment in central Zagreb on Sunday morning, when the earthquake hit. She was taken to the Clinical Hospital for children, where doctors fought to save her life. However, her injuries proved to be too severe, succumbing to her injuries on Monday afternoon. This is the first fatality from Sunday’s earthquake. Some 30 additional injuries were also reported, 17 of them severe. The quake hit at 6:24 in the morning and measured 5.5 on the Richter scale. It was followed by more than thirty aftershocks.

 

In Montenegro, 29 infected with a coronavirus, 938 are quarantined (CDM)

 

According to the latest figures released this morning by Assistants to the Ministry of Health in Montenegro, 29 people are currently infected with coronavirus and 938 are quarantined. Assistant Minister of Health Miro Knezevic pointed out that the whole world is in trouble when it comes to the procurement of equipment, but that Montenegro resisted this problem and reacted in a timely manner. “We will have enough personal protective equipment until some more contingents of equipment arrive. We have also been provided with respirators,” claims Knezvic.

Orthodox Metropolitanate, Diocese of Budimlhe and Niksic, as well as Diocese Milesevska, have acknowledged new, stricter measures of the Government. As they said, it is not “symbolic consumption of food and drink using the same cutlery” but it’s the Holy Communion with the Body and the Blood of our Lord and our Savior for the healing and salvation of our souls”. The sentences explain that taking the food with the same spoon is a holy act.

 

Camaj: Albanians negotiate joint run in parliamentary elections in Montenegro (Dan)

 

Leader of the Democratic Alliance of Albanians, DSA, Nikola Camaj, announced that the Albanian political parties have been negotiating running on a joint slate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Montenegro. In an interview with Dan, a daily, he also told the Albanian parties do not consider the postponement of the parliamentary elections as the opposition is requiring. Camaj pointed out that the Albanian parties have been negotiating, convinced that it’s the right thing to do. “The Albanian parties are already negotiating the possibility of running for the upcoming elections jointly, and there are some signals they will do it.” According to him, certain political parties are continuously trying to derail the attempts to implement the election reforms. “We do not think about the postponement of elections as we hope the current circumstances will stabilize soon. I don’t expect we will reach the agreement on the election reform, as certain political parties are continuously derailing any such attempt”.

 

Varhelyi: EU approves opening of negotiations with North Macedonia, Albania (MIA)


EU member states reached political agreement on opening of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Oliver Varhelyi announced Tuesday. “I wholeheartedly congratulate both countries. This also sends a loud and clear message to Western Balkans: your future is in EU,” he wrote on Twitter. At videoconference earlier in the day, the EU foreign ministers debated the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, the Commissioner said. “The European Commission position is clear: Both countries have delivered on reforms and are ready to open negotiations,” Varhelyi tweeted.

 

Twelve new coronavirus cases registered, total tally hits 148 (MIA)


Twelve new patients tested positive for the coronavirus in North Macedonia over the past 24-hours, bringing the total number of cases to 148, the Health Ministry said Tuesday. Of those, one patient has been cured, while two have passed away. Thus far, COVID-19 cases have been registered in Skopje (88), in Debar (40), in Shtip (7), in Kumanovo (8), in Kavadarci (2), in Ohrid (2) and in Gostivar (1).

 

Government restricts movement of teenagers, senior citizens to fight coronavirus spread (MIA/TV24)

 

The government has decided to ban the movement of young people under 18 and people over 67, PM Oliver Spasovski says. It means that teenagers under 18 will be able go outside only between 12 pm and 9 pm, whereas the elderly over 67 between 5 am and 11 am. This plan was made so as to prevent these two groups from being allowed to go outside at the same time – the young as being coronavirus carriers and the senior citizens as being at high risk of contracting the virus, Spasovski said Monday during an interview with TV24. He announced that the curfew as a result would be in force from 9 pm until 5 am, instead of 6 am. The crisis management body at a session today will discuss suspending public transportation. Spasovski said that additional restrictive measures aren’t ruled out depending on ‘the discipline of the citizens in implementing the measures introduced so far.’ The PM once again urged the citizens to comply with the measures and stay at home in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

 

Filipche: Coronavirus outbreak will be over after two incubation cycles without new cases (MIA)

 

After completing two incubation cycles without registering any new cases, we’ll know we’re effectively rid of the virus, Health Minister Venko Filipche told a press conference on Monday. He voiced confidence that North Macedonia will successfully overcome the coronavirus crisis. Filipche pointed out that public health experts strongly believe social distancing measures are the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “Citizens must adhere to all these measures. The mechanism is such that after two incubation cycles, we practically believe the virus is gone,” Filipche said. “This is the logic behind recommending social distancing, insisting on compliance with measures, not going out and protecting those at risk.” As regards the procurement of ventilators, the Health Minister said the procedure has been suspended to be reopened.

 

Army members deployed to guard vital public locations (MIA)

 

Military police members, part of North Macedonia’s Army, starting Monday are engaged in guarding key public locations, including the government, parliament and prisons in Skopje. Army members will be also deployed to protect the President’s residence as part of reorganization efforts and enhancing of the security detail, the Defense Ministry said. Combined teams to include police units will be added to the President’s security team, it is noted. The buildings will be guarded in full coordination with the Interior Ministry, based on the government decree on defining tasks for the Army throughout the state of emergency. “The Defense Ministry and the Army are taking over some of the tasks of the Interior Ministry to enable police forces to focus their capacities on making sure the government measures, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, are fully observed,” says the MoD.

 

Coronavirus cases surge to 123 in Albania (ADN)

 

Albania reported its highest daily total of new coronavirus cases on Tuesday. The 19 new COVID-19 cases brought Albania’s number of affected to 123. “To date, 930 suspected cases have been tested. In the last 24 hours, a 49 year- old patient from Tirana hospitalized for 13 days, has died. The deceased was suffering from diabetes and had been in intensive care for 10 days. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection expresses its condolences to the family of the deceased. We would like to inform you that so far 5 people infected with COVID-19 have passed away. Meanwhile, the good news is that 10 people have recovered but they have to stay in self-quarantine for 14 days,” said the Health Ministry in its briefing.

 

COVID-19 and international assistance to Albania (Tirana Times)

 

In his frequent addresses via social media to the Albanian public on the Covid-19 crisis and measures, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama often claims that Albania is in this war alone and that this disaster has countries in the world each scrambling only about their own citizens. Some degree of skepticism about the lack of international solidarity is justified and has been vocal in hard hit places. However international assistance in the management of the Covid-19 crisis does exist and can be accessed. China has sent indeed medical supplies and staff to Italy which is still bearing an enormous cost with a spiraling death toll. Remarkably even Cuba sent to Italy doctors trained in emergency crisis. In our region, the case of Serbia is quite telling. In a rare emotional press conference President Aleksanadar Vucic berated the European Union member states for not selling medical equipment to Serbia and for not assisting otherwise. “Thank you for nothing!” Vucic concluded while saying that he had already made a personal plea for help to the Chinese President. The EU responded by approving a 7.5 million Euro sum for Serbia to fight the crisis. “Action not words” was the ironic rebuke of Ambassador of EU in Serbia, Fabrizi, in his relevant Twitter announcement that cargo planes would bring necessary equipment within a week. In addition even EU’s High Representative Borell made sure to call President Vucic and assure him of the EU’s help. Pressure in this case seems to have worked seamlessly. In this very difficult times help is welcome from west and East in equal measure.  In the case of Albania the only foreign assistance ever mentioned is the expected help from Turkey. First the Prime Minister spoke rather ambiguously about it when mentioning that in case all else fails, his “plan C” relies on the help of President Erdogan who has been allegedly previously consulted. Rama did not share the details of Plan C. A few days later national media reported that a Turkish company that has developed rapid testing equipment for the virus would be available to ship over thousands of kits to Albania in the short term but there were no indication that the government had ordered any or expressed interest to consider this option whose cost was equally not revealed. There is no public declaration that Albania has approached the EU with any request or specific pleas for help. Additionally despite the willingness of the Chinese government expressed by the Chinese ambassador in a recent interview to show ‘true friendship in dire times’ there is no evidence that Albania has even sought this help. Whereas Serbia and Montenegro can also apply to the EU Solidarity Fund, this cannot be done yet by Albania and North Macedonia unless they also receive a formal decision to become negotiating countries. This decision is expected within this week and some positive signals have already leaked to the media however it remains to be seen how it will be announced officially. As the time of the crisis extends well beyond the period that was first assumed to be limited, Albania will need to ramp up significantly its efforts to seek medical and financial assistance from abroad.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Serbia blasts NATO’s 1999 aggression as crime against humanity (TASS, 24 March 2020)

 

Serbia on Tuesday is remembering an anniversary of NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999

BELGRADE, NATO’s aggression against Serbia will remain a crime against peace and humanity, a group of Serbia’s non-governmental organizations of diplomats, political scientists, military officers and medics said in a statement, obtained by the TASS bureau. “Twenty-one years ago, NATO, without obtaining permission to intervene from the United Nations, launched armed aggression against Serbia, thus crudely violating the UN Declaration, the Helsinki Accords, a number of other international conventions and its own act on the creation of NATO of 1949,” the statement runs. “It has been and will remain a crime against peace and humanity. The act of aggression, committed in alliance with the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army, left an estimated 3,500-4,000 people dead and 12,500 others injured and caused tremendous economic damage. The use of depleted uranium rounds and other prohibited weapons was a long-term hazard to the people and the environment. NATO turned itself into an aggressive, interventionist alliance with an outspokenly expansionist policy targeting the East first and foremost.” The statement points out that “the act of aggression and subsequent occupation of Kosovo and Metohija, illegal creation of the US military base Bondsteel, unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence and violations of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1244 were dangerous precedents and heavy blows on the European and global system of security.” The Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals led by the former foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Zivadin Jovanovic, the Club of Generals and Admirals of Serbia under General Milomir Miladinovic, and the Foundation United for Youth led by Professor Dr. Danica Grujicic urged the Serbian authorities to demand from the NATO countries a compensation for the war damages and hurry to draw up a list of all victims of the aggression.” The influential Serbian organizations believe it is essential to probe into the effects of depleted uranium and to build a memorial to commemorate Serbia’s victims. “Time is ripe for the governments of NATO and EU member-states to reconsider their role in the 1999 aggression and the policy towards Serbia and the Serbian people, to present official apologies for the victims and illicit elimination of Yugoslavia and resume compliance with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1244,” the statement runs.

 

Anniversary of bombardments

Serbia on Tuesday is remembering an anniversary of NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999. All official events have had to be canceled due to coronavirus related risks. Serbians are uploading hundreds of posts, photographs and eye-witness recollections of the bombardments to social networks and messengers under the common slogan We Shall Not Forget. NATO leaders claimed that the main reason for the air operation against Yugoslavia (codenamed Allied Force) was prevention of genocide of Albanians in Kosovo. NATO says that during the 78-day operation its combat aircraft flew more than 38,000 sorties, including 10,000 bombing strikes.

According to military experts, a total of 3,000 cruise missiles were launched and 80,000 bombs were dropped, including cluster and depleted uranium ones. Serbia says the bombardments killed up to 4,000 and injured about 12,500 others, two-thirds of them civilians. Serbian specialists estimate the amount of depleted uranium bombs NATO dropped on Serbia at 15 tonnes. In the wake of this attack Serbia’s cancer rate became the highest in Europe. In the first ten years following the bombardments about 30,000 developed cancer and 18,000 of them died. The material damage totaled $100 billion. The bombardments of oil refineries and petrochemical plants caused the pollution of water reservoirs and rivers with toxic chemicals. Serbian scientist Ljubisa Rakic believes that the amount of depleted uranium that NATO used in the territory of the Balkan states during the aggression would be enough to make 170 bombs identical to the one the US dropped on Hiroshima on 6th of August, 1945.

 

Could Trump Spark a New Balkan Ethnic War? (The New Republic, by Casey Michel, 24 March 2020)

 

As coronavirus wracks the globe, White House lackeys and lobbyists are converging on the former Yugoslavia and reopening old wounds.

As it struggles to manage the coronavirus crisis, the White House has begun casting around for policy victories that could fortify President Trump’s re-election chances. It has set its sights on a corner of the world that hasn’t topped American news cycles in some two decades—and which, if Trump has his way, may yet break down into the kind of nationalistic bloodshed that defined the region in the 1990s. Earlier this month, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic—an ultranationalist former propaganda minister in Slobodan Milosevic’s regime—swung through Washington, where he glad-handed with several of the leading sleazy figures in Trump’s orbit. Vucic’s Instagram feed showed the Serbian strong-man meeting with Richard Grenell, the troll-cum-diplomat acting as Trump’s director of national intelligence, ambassador to Germany, and official envoy for Serbia-Kosovo dialogue. Also present to receive Vucic was Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose government portfolio ranges from Middle East planning to the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the fact that government officials deemed Kushner a security risk.

Vucic’s photo feed shows him grinning awkwardly at the camera, towering over Grenell, Kushner, and national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Following their meeting, Vucic claimed that Grenell—and, by extension, the United States—had backed his Serbian pressure campaign against neighboring Kosovo, which the Belgrade government still treats as a breakaway Serbian province rather than a fellow nation-state. The nations’ latest spat centers on a trade war launched in November of 2018, when the Kosovar government placed a 100 percent tariff on all Serbian imports. But trade disputes are just the latest manifestation of a bloody, decades-long feud between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008. Kosovo is recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other countries around the world, but Serbia has attempted to throttle the nascent nation-state, stifling its dreams of self-determination. For years, Belgrade’s effort seemed largely quixotic: Since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, successive American administrations have supported Kosovo’s sovereignty and backed up their rhetoric with American military sorties. In 1999, Kosovo’s status nearly sparked the first post–Cold War hard-power conflict between the U.S. and Russia, which continues to view Serbia as a close ally. U.S. military forces have remained stationed in Kosovo since then as part of a broader NATO-led peacekeeping force. This American support for Kosovar independence has long remained a bipartisan endeavor. That may all be changing now: The emerging Republican consensus seems to be that Kosovo is on its own—and on the hook for all the help the U.S. has given it since the days of Milosevic. “Our position is quite clear: the tariffs must be completely dropped,” Grenell tweeted after receiving Vucic at the White House, adding that Kosovo was “making a serious mistake” in not unilaterally removing the tariffs. Administration allies took Grenell’s ball and ran with it. “For over two decades, U.S. forces have helped keep the peace between Kosovo & Serbia. Now, with historic progress in sight, Kosovo must do its part & abolish all duties imposed on Serbia,” Georgia Senator David Perdue announced on Twitter, just after Vucic’s Washington visit. “If Kosovo is not fully committed to peace, then the US should reconsider its presence there.” The following morning, Donald Trump Jr.—in the first comment that he, or probably any presidential son, has ever issued on Kosovo—retweeted Perdue’s message with one of his own. “There are 650 US troops in Kosovo,” Trump Jr. wrote of the longstanding peacekeeping force. “Time to bring them home.” Why did Trump Jr. suddenly feel emboldened this month to tweet his thoughts on security in the Balkans to the world? More important, why is the Trump administration sending signals that America’s role as the guarantor of Kosovar independence is suddenly up for grabs? One of the obvious answers centers on the kind of swamp Trump pledged to drain—but which, under this most corrupt of presidents, has instead flooded Washington. “We’ve seen the very alarming deterioration in quality of American foreign policy, and the very obvious concerns that it’s been deeply personalized by the Trump family, which has really in big way become a pay-to-play machine,” Jasmin Mujanović, an assistant political science professor at Elon University and author of a recent book examining political dynamics in the Western Balkans, told me. “From the Balkan end of things, there were a number of political actors in the region who were really excited by Trump’s election—maybe no one more than Belgrade and its proxies.” Indeed, few groups have insinuated themselves as closely with the Trump lobbying machine over the past two years as Serbia and its allies. In 2018, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski unexpectedly popped up in Belgrade, where he reportedly tried to set up lobbying links with Vucic—an anti-democratic leader who has cemented his role as Serbia’s autocrat for years to come. According to the agenda for Lewandowski’s meeting in Belgrade, another former Trump aide, George Gigicos, also joined him. (The lobbying firm linked to Lewandowski, Turnberry Solutions LLC, conveniently shared its name with one of Trump’s Scottish golf courses.) Also in 2018, pro-Serb separatists in Republika Srpska, a majority-Serb ethnic region in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), picked up a pair of Trump campaign officials to assist in efforts to crack up the country and glom onto Serbia proper. It didn’t matter that multiple Republika Srpska officials had already been sanctioned by the U.S. for corruption and efforts to splinter the Bosnian state. One of those former Trump campaign operatives-turned-lobbyists, Mike Rubino, even completed the pay-to-play circle last year, after the White House got him hired at the department of Health and Human Services. (He quit four months later, accusing his boss of being a “never Trumper”; last October, news broke that Rubino had attended a springtime lunch with representatives of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, shortly before the phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy that snowballed into a presidential impeachment.) The lobbying contacts also help make sense of Grenell’s appointment last October as the official U.S. envoy for Serbian-Kosovar relations. Though he had already been U.S. ambassador to Germany for more than a year, Grenell had no Balkan experience before Trump gave him the second hat to wear. Grenell does, however, have significant experience in spinning massively corrupt post-Soviet political figures for American audiences—so much so that he may have violated the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) while acting as an unregistered foreign agent. All of this—the lobbying links, the glad-handing, the easy access to all things Trump—has led the U.S. to suddenly begin leaning on Kosovo, and especially Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, to make unilateral concessions to Belgrade. The new fealty toward Serbia, as one regional analyst wrote, is “very, very, very bad news.” It’s also, as Edward P. Joseph noted in Foreign Policy, an “unprecedented move against perhaps the most pro-U.S. country on the globe.” And if Kurti doesn’t accede to Serbian wishes, as Trump Jr. suggested, the U.S. may pull up stakes completely—and allow Vucic much freer reign to do as he pleases in the Balkans, just two decades after Milosevic illustrated what damage the flames of nationalism can wreak when fanned. The Trump administration’s willingness to carry Vucic’s water is also helped along by the White House’s clear desire for a foreign policy win, no matter the cost. “The benefit of getting a deal on Kosovo is that not many Americans know a whole hell of a lot about Kosovo, and it’s not been on anyone’s radar for very long, so it lends itself to all kinds of spin from the White House,” Mujanović said. Ending a longstanding overseas military deployment, if a relatively small one, and declaring the weaker beneficiaries of U.S. security must now fend for themselves: It could certainly be spun, however myopically, as a win for the mythical “Donald the dove” narrative. “Fundamentally, the Trump White House just believes it will be a foreign policy victory, so it can shore up its credibility as a foreign policy actor,” Mujanović added.

It’s a playbook we’ve seen before. As in Syria and Ukraine, whatever the reasons, Trump has long deferred to the Russian point of view, and wanted to let Moscow take charge rather than challenge it with U.S. presence or operations. In giving Vucic, who remains cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a wide writ—and in turning a blind eye to the efforts of pro-Russian forces in the region—Trump continues a trend that’s threatened U.S. interests elsewhere, even while Trump claims to be shoring up stability across the world. And that, experts say, is a disastrously poor gamble in the Kosovo-Serbia stalemate. The U.S. force in Kosovo “is the lone anchor of stability in the region,” retired general Ben Hodges, who commanded the U.S. Army in Europe from 2014-2017, tweeted in response to Trump Jr.’s withdrawal threat. “Pulling them out now, before agreements have been implemented, would be like pulling all your starters in the middle of a comeback in the 4th quarter, just before you take the lead.” The agreements that would have to be implemented involve Serbian-Kosovar land disputes, a spark that would almost certainly light a much larger fuse—one that the region, only a generation removed from the Yugoslav collapse, can ill afford. Any partitioning “risks forced population exchange and even violence,” Shaun Byrnes, a former American diplomat who served in Kosovo at the height of Milosevic’s irredentist campaign, wrote earlier this month. “Worse, it could revive dreams of radical nationalists elsewhere in the Balkans.” Those radical nationalists already view Trump’s administration as an ally in their dream to redraw the post–Cold War borders, and Trump’s coterie seems happy to oblige—no matter the cost to the people of the Balkan peninsula or to America’s legacy. Either way, the lobbyists get paid.

Casey Michel is an investigative reporter based in New York.

 

Only a matter of time’: Greek migrant camps brace for coronavirus outbreak (Politico, by Madeleine Speed, 24 March 2020)

 

Nothing is being done to prepare for mass infection, rights groups say.

LESVOS, Greece — On the Greek islands at the forefront of Europe’s unresolved migration crisis, social distancing and self-isolation are luxuries many can’t afford. In Moria, Europe’s largest informal migrant camp, some 20,000 people live in an area designed to house no more than 3,000. Tents and makeshift shelters spill out past the official reception center’s fences and down the hill into the surrounding olive groves. Here, it’s close to impossible to comply with the World Health Organization’s guidelines for slowing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic that’s claiming thousands of lives across Europe: Wash your hands frequently; maintain your distance from other people; self-isolate when you experience symptoms. At the camp on the island of Lesvos, hundreds of people share the same water source, and most residents spend hours in queues on a daily basis for food and essential supplies. Sanitary conditions are notoriously poor. “They don’t have isolation facilities,” said Siyana Mahroof-Shaffi, the founder of Kitrinos Healthcare, a charity that provides medical care inside Moria camp. “They don’t have a home. All they can do is sit in a tent and hope for the best.” Many migrants don’t have their own tent and rely on the kindness of others for a place to sleep — something that could cause the virus to spread even faster. “One night in one friend’s tent, one night in another,” said 16-year-old Shams from Afghanistan. He regularly leaves the camp to escape the fights that break out at night. “We don’t have anything. We are alone.” Tasos Balis, who advises the mayor of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, said that “it’s only a matter of time” until the outbreak wreaks havoc on migrant camps on the islands. Aid workers and rights organizations rang the alarm bell after the first coronavirus case on Lesvos was confirmed on March 10. They called on the Greek government to take urgent action and evacuate the migrants to stop mass infection — something that has not yet happened. There has yet to be a confirmed case of coronavirus inside the migrant camp. “Containment is the only existing plan,” said Peter Casaer, Médecins Sans Frontières’ representative on Lesvos. “[The virus] is at our doorstep and nothing is being done. It’s like they’re forgotten, abandoned, sacrificed for fortress Europe.” In a statement on March 12, MSF warned that “with unhygienic, cramped living conditions, the threat of an outbreak among people is very real, yet there are no epidemic response plans in place.” Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said worries about the impact of the virus on asylum seekers keeps her awake at night. She said the situation for many in the Greek camps was “unacceptable already” before the current crisis. “The risk of having the virus in those camps is a really dangerous one,” she told POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast. Johansson said she is talking to Greek authorities, international refugee agencies and charities to try to improve conditions on the islands. Members of the European Parliament on Monday took up the call for a “preventive evacuation” of the overcrowded camps, saying “the humanitarian crisis on the Greek islands risks becoming a public health issue for which an immediate European response has to be found.” “Many of those in the camps (42,000 people in total) are already in a precarious health situation, and despite the measures taken by the Greek authorities, the overcrowding and the dire living conditions make it difficult to contain COVID-19,” Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the chair of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, wrote in a letter to Janez Lenarčič, the European commissioner for crisis management. There are only six intensive care beds available on the island, the letter said, and no chance of isolation or social distancing. So far, Greece’s migration ministry has responded to the risk of an outbreak by passing measures to limit the movement of asylum seekers on the islands. The government is also accelerating the construction of a new permanent closed facility on the island of Samos and will expand the camps on Kos and Leros. The ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Monitoring the spread of disease in sprawling, makeshift camps like Moria is infinitely more difficult than in a closed facility, where every movement is tracked, said Jason Straziuso, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has dealt with Ebola and cholera outbreaks in detention spaces. But many aid organizations also worry that limiting people’s movements in government facilities could be detrimental to their human rights, robbing them of some of the personal freedom they have living in open camps like Moria. There is also a fear that restrictions on movement could spark panic. The question is how to maintain calm while also preventing infection. “We don’t have any magical solutions. In fact, we fear that it could be impossible to stop the spread,” said Straziuso. In the absence of a comprehensive plan of action from the government, volunteers say they are doing their best to prepare for a situation that could tip into chaos quickly, in the hope that small measures that raise awareness and improve hygiene will have an impact. Movement on the Ground, a Dutch NGO, has hung hand sanitizer dispensers from trees in Vathy camp on Samos. In Moria, they have established a new food line, so that people spend less time in queues, where they risk coming into contact with someone who has been infected. Mahroof-Shaffi, of Kitrinos Healthcare, and a number of other aid organizations are waiting for approval from local authorities to erect two field hospitals beside the camp — one for isolation, and one to treat cases of COVID-19. She is worried that migrants may be especially vulnerable to complications from contracting the coronavirus, as some 80 percent of her consultations are for respiratory tract infections caused by the fumes of fires migrants build to keep themselves warm, she said. Another source of concern is the health of local doctors, officials and aid workers on the ground. A spike in violence and intimidation against aid workers by local vigilante groups in recent weeks — following protests against government plans to build permanent migrant facilities on the islands — has already driven some NGOs away. For those living in the migrant camps, the situation puts them in even greater limbo. With Europe in crisis mode and borders being erected between countries wanting to contain to virus, their chances of receiving asylum — or their claims being processed soon — seem low. “Every human being has the capacity for empathy,” said MSF’s Casaer. “But when fear rises, empathy goes.”

 

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