Greece: As Prime Minister Visits Lesbos, Moria Camp is Overcrowded, Dangerous and Without Adequate Health Care

GREECE 2018 © Faris Al-Jawad/MSF

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges Greek government to increase medical services and transfer people to Greek mainland 

ATHENS/NEW YORK, MAY 3, 2018—As the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, visits Lesbos for a regional conference, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns that thousands of men, women, and children in Lesbos are living in squalid, overcrowded conditions in Moria camp, with insufficient access to health care.

With about 500 people arriving in Lesbos every week, the overcrowding, as well as the increased demand for health care and other services, is pushing the camp to the breaking point. MSF is calling on the Greek authorities to immediately transfer people from Lesbos to the Greek mainland, and to immediately scale up the provision of health care on the island.

"Moria camp is both unsafe and wholly unhealthy, especially for children," said Declan Barry, MSF medical coordinator. "Every day we treat many hygiene-related conditions such as vomiting and diarrhea, skin infections, and other infectious diseases, and we must then return these people to the same risky living conditions. It's an unbearable vicious circle."

There are currently more than 7,000 people in Moria camp, which is run by the Greek government and was built for a maximum of 2,500 people. The living conditions and the reduction in the provision of medical care endanger the health and the lives of people trapped there.

From a location near Moria camp, MSF has been providing pediatric care to children and sexual and reproductive health care to women since late 2017. Demand for both types of medical care has doubled in recent months. In the past few weeks, MSF teams have treated 60 children a day and have also been turning away approximately 15 patients daily, because they are unable to meet the increasing needs.

This is extremely alarming given that there is very limited access to health care at night and during weekends in Moria camp, and that children in need of medical care are very vulnerable, MSF said.

In addition, the provision of primary health care for adults in Moria camp is extremely limited, with very few other medical care providers serving the camp during the week, and just one volunteer organization providing a reduced health care service during nights and weekends. The only public hospital in Lesbos is already overwhelmed and understaffed, and patients struggle to access the specialized services it provides. 

"For months we have warned of a dramatic deterioration of the health and mental health situation in Lesbos," said Katerina Katopodi, MSF nurse in Lesbos. "The authorities have not responded to meet this very clear and present need, and the suffering of the population continues to increase: every day in our clinic we see patients with urgent needs, including many cases of suicide attempts and self-harm. We urge the Greek government to stop this inhumane and unsustainable policy of containment on the islands and immediately increase the provision of medical care for these families."

MSF has been providing medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Greece since 1996. Activities increased with an emergency response in Greece in 2015 when thousands of people arrived on the Greek islands and crossed through the Balkans to reach other destinations in Europe. MSF has been working in Lesbos since 2008, providing medical services for migrants living in several refugee camps on the island, largely focusing on pediatric and mental health care.