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MSF in Greece, 2009
Field Staff: 17
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In recent years, the number of undocumented migrants arriving in Greece has been increasing. In 2009, more than 36,400 people were arrested at the Turkish border trying to gain access to Greece. Often, these people come from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Palestine and are trying to escape conflict and instability. Migrants often endure poor living conditions and are not entitled to access the national public healthcare system except in emergencies, when they must pay for care. Throughout 2009, MSF worked in a makeshift migrant’s settlement in the city of Patra and in three detention centers for undocumented migrants.
Assistance to migrants in Patra
Patra is the main exit port for migrants hoping to reach Western Europe. Many leave hidden in trucks in an attempt to reach Italy. Between May 2008 and August 2009, MSF ran a clinic here in a shantytown, and organized mobile clinics in other locations to assist the migrants. MSF offered primary healthcare and psychosocial support and worked to help improve living conditions. More than 8,000 patients were examined and referrals were made to local hospitals. The most common medical complaints were dermatological problems, upper respiratory infections, and injuries, and most of these were related to the poor living conditions endured by the migrants. MSF psychologists frequently identified symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. The MSF project was closed in September 2009 following the demolition of the makeshift migrant settlement by Greek authorities and a resulting decrease in the migrant population in the area.
Detention in Greece
In detention centers, living conditions are often unacceptable and degrading. In Pagani, overcrowding had led to a dramatic deterioration of living conditions and people had begun to protest. The number of migrants detained in a facility with an official capacity of 275 was often more than 800, and reached up to 1,200. There was often only one functioning latrine for up to 200 people. During periods of overcrowding many migrants had to sleep on dirty mattresses, on floors that were covered by stagnant water from overflowing showers. The migrants were rarely allowed to go outside and families were split up. In Venna and Filakio migrants face shortages of food, clothes and hygiene items, and access outdoors is irregular and insufficient. In Filakio migrants regularly complain about inhumane treatment by police officers, including verbal and physical abuse.
The Pagani detention center closed in November 2009, following repeated MSF appeals to the authorities to address the humanitarian emergency taking place there. MSF had raised concerns with authorities regarding the poor living conditions in detention centers, the limited provision of medical care, the absence of mental health services, the inadequate care of unaccompanied minors, and the absence of a follow-up system for people with medical problems.
In August 2009, after negotiations with the Greek authorities who had closed a detention center on the island of Lesvos in 2008, MSF started new psychosocial support programs in three detention centers in Pagani, Venna and Filakio. MSF psychologists provided support to undocumented migrants via individual or group counseling sessions. Most of the migrants come from unstable regions, and many of them have had traumatic experiences on their journey to Europe. Furthermore, detention in the camps, which involves difficult living conditions, overcrowding, confinement, and the threat of forced repatriation, can increase the pressure on their mental health. Unaccompanied minors, children, women and victims of torture are especially vulnerable.
Palestinian boy, aged 16, Pagani detention center
‘My entire family, my parents, my three brothers and my sister were killed when a bomb fell on our house. I went to answer the phone and then the bomb fell. The roof collapsed over the room my family was sitting in. There was a lot of dust. I could see their hands under the debris. I could not see their faces. I only saw the face of my youngest brother. Here, I need to be able to go outside the cell because inside I think of the bad things that happened at home.’
MSF has worked in Greece since 2008.