Why are we there?

  • Health care exclusion

Our work

This is an excerpt from MSF's 2013 International Activity Report:

Undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Greece face long periods of detention in centers with limited access to basic services and healthcare.

Migrants and asylum seekers of all ages can find themselves summarily arrested and confined in detention centers for up to 18 months. They have little or no opportunity to communicate with their families, and their physical and mental health often deteriorates.

MSF has responded to the situation by providing medical consultations and psychosocial support to people being held at detention centers in Komotini, Filakio, and Drama, and in the police stations of Feres, Soufli, Tychero, and North Iasmos. Items including clothes, sleeping bags, towels, and soap have also been distributed in centers to help people maintain a basic level of hygiene, health, and dignity. These activities were handed over to the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention in April. Five months later, MSF resumed assistance at Filakio and Komotini, and Feres, Soufli, and North Iasmos as no medical or humanitarian assistance was being provided by the authorities. The team also responded to two outbreaks of scabies—a parasitic skin infestation that spreads rapidly in crowded conditions—in the detention facilities. More than 2,000 people were treated between January and April and September and December.

Healthcare out of reach

The financial crisis in Greece has led to the country’s health budget being cut by almost 40 percent, and state funds for medication have also been almost halved. As a consequence there is limited availability of medicine, not only for vulnerable groups like the unemployed and the uninsured, but also for the general population. In October, an MSF team began assisting people in need of healthcare at food distribution centers in Athens. On-the-spot care, including medical consultations, hospital referrals, and psychosocial referrals for shelter and legal assistance were provided. Many patients were unemployed or elderly.

Freezing temperatures in early 2013 led authorities to open temporary emergency shelters to accommodate homeless people in Athens, and MSF launched an emergency intervention in January.

At the end of 2013, MSF had 12 field staff in Greece. MSF has been providing medical assistance in the country since 2008.

Patient story

Samira,* 17 years old, Lesvos

“In the Ghazni region of Afghanistan where we used to live, my father was killed, and my mother and two sisters were raped. I was the only one spared, so we decided to flee. We walked for months through mountains in the dark and the cold. We reached Lesvos island in extreme exhaustion. Here we feel safe; we received help from Médecins Sans Frontières and the local population.

At the border with Iran they separated us from one of our sisters: they put her in another truck and since then we’ve lost track of her. We want to go and live in a peaceful place, where our lives won’t be at risk.”

*  The patient's name has been changed

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