Greece: New Report Finds Dire Neglect of Asylum Seekers on Lesbos

Tanya Habjouqa

NEW YORK/ATHENS, JULY 24, 2017—A report released today by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) highlights the drastic deterioration of medical care and protection for asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos.  

The report documents the neglected needs of asylum seekers as policies of the European Union and Greece make it more difficult for vulnerable people to access basic medical care, shelter, and water. The reduction of support comes as the needs are increasing: in the first three weeks of June, 785 people arrived on Lesbos, compared to 230 people in April. Many of these people have fled violence and war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places affected by conflict.

“Vulnerable people are falling through the cracks and are not being adequately identified and cared for,” said Emilie Rouvroy, MSF’s head of mission in Greece. “The capacity of medical actors to identify vulnerable people has been dramatically reduced.”

The report, “A Dramatic Deterioration for Asylum Seekers on Lesbos,” is based on MSF medical data and patient testimonies. It describes the impact of recent drastic cuts to health care provision on the island, as well as reduced support for legal aid, shelters, and other essential services. Health care must be scaled up on the island to address the needs.

The report finds that 80 percent of people who received mental health assessments were in need of medical care. Additionally, two-thirds of MSF’s mental health patients were victims of violence before arriving in Greece, and one-fifth had been tortured. Approximately half of the women MSF saw for gynecological check-ups had experienced sexual violence.

These findings paint a dire picture of neglect, and illustrate the effects of violence and poor living conditions on this population. Recent arrivals are now facing a new health threat as temperatures soar in Moria refugee camp, where shelter and water are not always available. Last summer, MSF saw many cases of heat stroke and dehydration following an interruption in the water supply.

“The difficult, overcrowded living conditions; the complicated legal system; and deep medical suffering are often compounded by the loss of home, family, friends, and the violence of the journey many refugees have made,” said MSF advocacy manager Louise Roland-Gosselin, who analyzed the project’s data. “The alarm bells are ringing now.”