ATHENS—Thousands of refugees arriving to Greece's Aegean islands are caught in a dysfunctional reception system and are facing inhumane conditions, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
More than 14,000 people—more than 90 percent of whom are fleeing war-torn Syria—have crossed the Aegean sea from Turkey to the Dodecanese islands this year in search of protection, according to official figures. With too few suitable facilities to host them, many refugees are forced to sleep outside in the cold and rain or in badly overcrowded police station cells while waiting for days to be transferred to the Greek mainland. Greece and the European Union (EU) must improve the treatment of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, and offer them adequate medical assistance and protection, MSF said.
"We have seen intolerable overcrowding, with 53 people crammed into a cell meant for six," said Kostas Georgakas, MSF field coordinator. "These conditions are unbearable for even one night, especially for people already suffering physically and psychologically after fleeing war. What little they are offered after such a grueling journey is shameful, and it is dangerous for their health."
Newly arrived refugees are not receiving proper health care. While the Greek authorities have a responsibility to identify and care for vulnerable refugees upon arrival, they have not taken significant steps in recent months due to a lack of resources and political will.
"No medical screening is provided for the arrivals and, more importantly, vulnerable people are neglected," Georgakas said. "Recently, a group of doctors from the Ministry of Health was sent to screen refugees for Ebola—despite the fact that most refugees come from Syria and Afghanistan, not from West Africa. But those suffering cardiovascular problems or diabetes receive nothing."
As a result of the deplorable reception conditions, an MSF mobile team has launched two emergency operations in the Dodecanese islands since late August. The team has provided medical care to more than 350 refugees and distributed more than 3,000 kits of essential relief items including sleeping bags, soap, and other hygiene items.
Patients have told MSF teams that they were forced to return to Turkey before eventually being able to reach Greek shores. Greece has the obligation to honor the fundamental rights of all persons under its jurisdiction, regardless of nationality. States must guarantee the non-refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers from territorial lands and waters at all times, and ensure that those persons receive decent treatment upon arrival, including access to an efficient and equitable asylum procedure.
"Greece closed its land borders and now it must respond to the flow of refugees arriving on the Aegean islands with the dignity and respect that these people deserve," said Manu Moncada, MSF's operations coordinator for migration. "Higher fences and inhumane living conditions on the islands will not deter the desperate, who will be forced to take ever more dangerous routes in search of safety, with many losing their lives in the process."
Since 2008, MSF has responded to the urgent medical and humanitarian needs of newly arrived migrants in Greece, as well as to asylum seekers and migrants in administrative detention. In collaboration with two Greek organizations, MSF is also providing medical rehabilitation for victims of torture in Athens.