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MSF in Greece, 2011
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During the first nine months of 2011, some 1,000 migrants were arriving at the Greek border every day, many in need of medical attention.
The Evros River, on the Greek-Turkish border, is the main entry point in Europe for undocumented migrants. In 2011, border controls were tightened: a fence was built along the northern border, and a team from Frontex, the EU border security agency, was deployed in the northeast. Consequently, the number of people arriving in north Evros fell by almost one half compared with 2010. However, there was a threefold increase in arrivals in south Evros.
On entering the country, migrants are arrested by the police. They are registered and given an expulsion order. Many voluntarily give themselves up to the police, because without an expulsion order they cannot buy a bus or train ticket to continue their journey.
Critical conditions in detention
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began providing relief items and healthcare at the border police stations of Feres, Soufli and Tychero in 2010, and reported on the critical situation for migrants and asylum seekers in detention.
In 2011, hygiene and sanitation remained poor. Throughout the year, the number of people having to share a latrine exceeded the emergency standard by almost four times. Detainees were not provided with any basic necessities, such as cooking utensils, soap or blankets, nor with any legal information or counseling. The Ministry of Health irregularly provided only basic health services. There was no medical surveillance or follow-up in the detention centres. MSF systematically reported these problems.
In March, the Ministry of Health began to address direct medical needs, and MSF handed over its activities. However, in August, the ministry suspended its work due to lack of funds, and MSF again provided medical assistance and water and sanitation services in five detention centers. In October, the Ministry of Health resumed its operations, and a second MSF handover was finalized.
Between January and April, and August and September, MSF teams held nearly 2,700 medical consultations, as well as more than 170 mental health sessions. At Filakio, MSF distributed basic essentials, such as sleeping bags, washing kits, towels, toothbrushes and clothing. The teams also repaired blocked toilets and broken windows, disinfected cells and distributed materials so that detainees could keep their living quarters clean.
Vulnerable people left without shelter
In an effort to ease overcrowding, the Greek authorities made a decision not to detain people for longer than one or two days. However, without the means to move on or find shelter, many people, including pregnant women and young children, ended up sleeping outside the detention centers and police stations in harsh weather conditions. MSF teams regularly distributed sleeping bags, warm clothes and soap.
At the end of 2011, MSF had 3 field staff in Greece. MSF has been providing medical assistance in the country since 2008.