EU Mediterranean Summit: MSF Calls on Participants to Improve Conditions for Migrants Arriving on Europe's Southern Shores

Brussels, July 11, 2008 — As the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean is due this Sunday at the Paris EU Summit, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls on all participants to urgently improve reception conditions for migrants reaching the southern shores of Europe.

Since 2000, MSF has provided emergency medical aid and medical screenings across the southern borders of the European Union to migrants who reach European shores by boat. MSF is deeply concerned about the conditions of arriving migrants and calls on concerned countries to ensure that medical screenings and emergency medical aid are made available to them. MSF asks that EU Member States do not limit their cooperation with Mediterranean partners to border control alone, but that they also improve reception conditions for migrants in accordance with international law, and guarantee access to asylum procedures in addition to ensuring the provision of emergency medical aid.

“Increased controls and surveillance are not deterring people from trying to reach Europe”, said Antonio Virgilio, head of mission for MSF in Italy. “These people are running away from war, violence, hunger, and extreme hardship. Their only chance is to make that perilous journey. So they take more risks now - they travel in smaller and more precarious boats for more days. In 2008, our medical teams in Lampedusa, Italy, noted that migrants required more medical assistance than in the past. Many arrive in a desperate state, suffering from shock, hypothermia, and skin burns as a result of the hard conditions during long journeys at sea.”

MSF teams in Morocco have noticed that the increase in border controls along the coasts of Morocco and Spain has had a marked impact on the routes taken by migrants. As a result, people are increasingly travelling by boat from the south of Mauritania and Senegal heading towards the Canary Islands, making their journey longer and more dangerous.

To respond to the health needs of migrants, MSF has run emergency medical programs on the border shores of a number of countries, including Spain (Tarifa, Ceuta and Mellilla, Canary Islands), Italy (Brindisi, Lampedusa), Morocco and Greece. As an international medical aid agency, the need for MSF to even be present at the entry points to Europe is a telling indication of the lack of adequate medical assistance currently available for these migrants.

On the island of Lampedusa, Italy, MSF provides initial medical screening for people who arrive by boat. An average of between 12,000 to 15,000 people land on this island every year, yet no regional health authorities provide these services.

This year, MSF teams in Lampedusa are witnessing a marked increase in the number of people arriving on the island. Between January and June 2008 there were 146 boat landings, compared to 71 in the first half of 2007. MSF teams in Lampedusa have also noted changes in the population making the boat journeys; there are more women (+11 percent) and children (+ 4.6 percent) and currently about 30 percent of people are from the Horn of Africa, from countries at war such as Somalia.

A significant increase in the influx of migrants compared to previous years can also be confirmed in Greece. For instance, in the detention center of the island of Lesvos, the number of cases reported in the first five months of 2008 was more than double the total number of arrivals throughout 2004.

As in Italy, in the temporary settlement located near the Greek port of Patras, MSF teams have also recorded new population shifts in the arriving migrants – changing from predominantly Kurdish to almost exclusively Afghan in origin.

People coming from countries at war should be considered as potential asylum seekers and proper information on asylum procedures must be provided upon their arrival. Last year, Greece alone received more than 112,000 migrants. However, from a total of approximately 25,000 registered asylum claims, only eight were granted refugee status.

In Italy, MSF teams are conducting initial medical screenings (triage) and follow-up for urgent medical referrals in the harbor of Lampedusa. In Greece, MSF has recently started working in migrants’ detention centers on the island of Mytilini (Lesvos). MSF also works in the migrants’ temporary settlement in Patras to provide primary and mental health care and to improve living conditions. In Morocco, MSF provides primary health care to the sub-Saharan migrants in Oujda, Rabat, and Casablanca through mobile clinics and by referring patients requiring treatment in public hospitals.