January 25, 2011

Immediate Action Needed to Improve Living Conditions in Detention Facilities in Evros to Ensure Physical and Mental Health of Migrants

MSF medical teams have been assisting detained migrants and asylum seekers and are witnessing a situation that has reached emergency levels.

Athens, January 26, 2011?Migrants and asylum seekers held in police stations and detention centers in Greece are living in unbearable and inhumane conditions, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. MSF medical teams have been assisting detained migrants and asylum seekers at three border police stations and are witnessing a situation that has reached emergency levels.

The Greek government should immediately improve living and hygiene conditions in the border police stations and detention centers for migrants and asylum seekers in Evros, MSF said. Every day, men, women, children, pregnant women, and unaccompanied minors are experiencing a cruel and inhumane reality that has serious implications for their physical and mental health.

In the border police stations of Soufli and Tychero, MSF doctors have treated more than 850 migrants suffering mostly from respiratory infections, gastrointestinal problems, and skin infections due to the poor living conditions.

?No human being should be subjected to such treatment,? said Ioanna Pertsinidou, MSF?s emergency coordinator. ?Every day we are seeing people who are obliged to stay for weeks or even for months in extremely overcrowded and squalid cells, without the right to go out in the yard. There are so many people detained that they don?t have the space to even lie down in the cells, while the heating often does not work, leaving migrants freezing in sub-zero temperatures. In one of the detention centers, the toilet often does not work and excrement floods sections of the cell where migrants live and sleep.?

The situation is further aggravated by sub-zero temperatures in Evros. In recent weeks, several people trying to cross the border have died because of the cold weather. Others have arrived in serious medical condition. In the first week of 2011, MSF doctors provided care to 15 migrants who had managed to cross the border and who were suffering from frostbite, four in severe condition.

MSF is calling on the Greek authorities to immediately respond to the emergency medical and humanitarian needs of the detained migrants and asylum seekers in Evros. ?The situation we are witnessing poses major humanitarian concerns,? said Pertsinidou. ?The Greek government should immediately put in place a coordinated emergency response to improve the reception conditions at the border and the living conditions in detention facilities.?

Measures that enhance border controls, such as the creation of a fence at the border and the deployment of European Union border security teams (FRONTEX), should not be considered a viable response. Migrants and asylum seekers who are escaping conflict and violence, deprivation, or human rights violations, will continue to try to enter Europe. Restrictive measures will only force them to risk their lives on longer, more hazardous journeys, and will leave them vulnerable to trafficking or smuggling networks. The European Union?s increasingly restrictive asylum and migration policies are putting the lives and well-being of migrants in danger, particularly vulnerable groups such as women, children, and unaccompanied minors.

MSF has been providing medical care and psychosocial support to migrants and asylum seekers in Greece since 2008. Since the beginning of December 2010, MSF teams have been providing health care in the border police stations of Tychero, Soufli, and Feres, and in the Detention Center of Filakio, where they are also working to improve living and hygiene conditions. MSF doctors have treated more than 850 people, referred 15 people to local hospitals, and have distributed 3,500 sleeping bags and 2,500 personal hygiene kits.