July 13, 2009

Athens, July 13, 2009 — Following yesterday’s police operation at a makeshift camp for migrants in Patras and the subsequent fire that broke out, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expresses concern for the medical and humanitarian condition of the migrants and asylum seekers who were left homeless, as well as those who were arrested. MSF urges authorities to ensure humane living conditions and the provision of medical assistance to this population.

“Many of the people who are left without shelter and the ones who were arrested have been our patients for a long period of time,” said Micky Van Gerven, Head of Mission of the MSF project for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Greece. “We are deeply concerned about their condition and request guarantees from the authorities that they will be treated with dignity and receive medical and mental health support if needed.”

MSF was informed about the police operation early in the morning and rushed immediately to the camp, said Christos Papaioannou, the MSF field coordinator in Patras. Bulldozers began to demolish the makeshift construction and a fire broke out, he said. Several migrants without official documents have been arrested, while many others left the camp by themselves.

“We don’t know yet where they are and what has happened to them,” he said. “Most of them have been forced to leave their country because of conflict or extreme poverty and are now faced with an uncertain future and possible detention for an unclear period of time. This may have a negative impact on their medical and mental health condition.” 

MSF calls on the authorities to assume full responsibility for the provision of medical assistance and psychosocial support to these people, ensure humane living conditions for the detainees, and pay special attention to vulnerable groups, such as minors, patients with chronic diseases and people with special medical needs.

The majority of the people living in the camp were from Afghanistan and have fled conflict and war. Among them are a number of minors, who are extremely vulnerable and in need of special protection. It is important that all migrants and asylum seekers are treated with dignity and that the authorities adhere to the relevant international and European conventions as well as the EU Council directive which established minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers

Today’s police operation is part of a broader response targeting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Patras and other parts of the country. MSF will closely monitor the situation in Patras and continue to respond to the needs of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the country.

MSF has been working in the migrants’ makeshift camp in Patras since May 2008 providing primary health care and psychosocial support and improving the living conditions of the population inside the camp. So far the organization has carried out more than 8,500 consultations, treating mostly respiratory infections and dermatological diseases, and referring more than 350 patients to the local hospitals. During this period, more than 400 refugees have received individual psychosocial support and more than 450 group sessions, including psycho education and health promotion sessions. Finally, sleeping bags and hygiene kits have been distributed to the refugees and migrants living inside or outside the Patras makeshift camp.