EU migration policies are causing tremendous human suffering on the Greek islands

MSF report highlights the need to protect the health and wellbeing of refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants

EU failed containment model Report

Greece 2021 © Evgenia Chorou

ATHENS/BRUSSELS/GENEVA/NEW YORK JUNE 9, 2021—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières/ (MSF) released a report today on the devastating impact of European Union (EU) migration policies. MSF calls on EU leaders to completely change their approach to migration instead of doubling down on their existing containment and deterrence policies, which cause avoidable harm to the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants.

“For more than five years, the EU policy of containing people and processing their asylum applications in ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands has created an unprecedented crisis and tremendous human suffering,”  said Reem Mussa, MSF humanitarian advisor on migration and one of the authors of the report. “These are not unintended consequences. The EU’s hotspot model is designed not only to process migrants’ asylum applications, but also to deter others who dare to seek safety in Europe.”


Constructing Crisis at Europe's borders

The report, Constructing Crisis at Europe’s Borders, shows how the EU’s migration policies put the health, wellbeing, and safety of people trapped on the Greek islands in jeopardy. People who have survived violence and hardship are stuck in appalling conditions with a lack of information on their legal status and are subjected to harsh border and asylum procedures. This system inflicts misery, puts lives in danger, and erodes the right to asylum.

During 2019 and 2020, MSF mental health clinics on Chios, Lesvos, and Samos treated 1,369 people, many of whom suffered from severe mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. More than 180 people treated by MSF had self-harmed, or attempted suicide. Two-thirds of them were children, and the youngest was just six years old.

MSF patients cited daily stresses and constant fears as major factors impacting their wellbeing and mental health. These include navigating life in poor conditions, complicated administrative and asylum procedures, exposure to violence and insecurity, family separation, unaddressed medical needs, and fear of deportation.

For years, even the most basic life essentials have been neglected on the Greek islands. MSF and other nongovernmental organizations have been continuously forced to step in to provide crucial services, from health care to water. From October 2019 to May 2021, MSF teams trucked in over 11 million gallons of clean water for people in the over-crowded Vathy hotspot on Samos where the water is unsafe to drink.  

“Despite claiming to change for the better, the EU and the Greek government are spending millions of Euros to standardize and intensify policies that have already done so much harm,” says Iorgos Karagiannis, MSF head of mission in Greece.

The EU and the Greek Government are exacerbating the crisis by planning new multi-purpose reception and identification centers (MPRICs) in remote locations on the Greek islands. One of these restrictive centers is already being built on Samos and may be operational in June 2021. 

“Shockingly, Lesvos's Moria hotspot, which was not only dysfunctional but deadly, is now the blueprint for a new prison-like center on Samos,” said Karagiannis. “The new facility is in a remote, exposed area of the island and will hold people in shipping containers, surrounded by barbed wire, with controlled entry and exit. This cannot be sold as an improvement in people’s living conditions. Instead, it will continue to cause a degradation in people’s mental health, a further protection crisis, and will make the suffering of those trapped on the Greek islands even more invisible.”

“It is not too late for compassion and common sense,” said Mussa. “The EU and its member states should end polices of containment and ensure people arriving in Europe have access to urgent assistance, and facilitate access to protection, relocation to safe reception, and integration in communities across Europe."