April 01, 2014


ATHENS/BRUSSELS/NEW YORK—Prolonged and systematic detention is leading to devastating consequences on the health and dignity of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned in a report released today, which called for an end to the practice.

In Greece, undocumented migrants are routinely detained when apprehended without valid documents. Since the summer of 2012 and the launch of widespread police checks—known as ‘Operation Xenios Zeus’—administrative detention has been used on a massive scale, often applied for the maximum period of 18 months. 

A new report from MSF, Invisible Suffering, details the medical problems that detained migrants and asylum seekers suffer from, often as a result of substandard conditions and the lack of consistent or adequate medical assistance. Conditions include respiratory, gastrointestinal, dermatological, and musculoskeletal diseases, as well as anxiety, depression, and extreme acts such as hunger strikes, self-harm, and suicide attempts.

"Despite our repeated calls for improvements to detention conditions and migrants' access to health care, we have seen little change and the overall situation continues to deteriorate," said Dr. Apostolos Veizis, MSF's head of mission in Greece.

Greece currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), and MSF called on the Greek government and the EU to stop turning a blind eye to the unacceptable detention practices.

MSF called on Greece and the EU to put an end to the indiscriminate, systematic and prolonged detention of migrants and asylum seekers; to cease detaining people in inappropriate facilities; to cease detaining vulnerable people including minors, victims of torture, and chronically ill patients; and to invest in a reception system adapted to the physical, medical, and humanitarian needs of migrants and asylum seekers.

"Other EU member states and European institutions cannot continue to shirk their share of responsibility," said Ioanna Kotsioni, MSF's advisor on migration. "First-entry countries are under increased pressure to restrict migration flows into the EU by using detention as a deterrence measure, and they cannot be held solely accountable for the harm inflicted on migrants and asylum seekers. It is a common responsibility and a shared shame."

Over the past six years, MSF has carried out more than 9,900 medical consultations inside Greek detention centers and police stations where migrants and asylum seekers are held.

Greek authorities have finally committed to provide medical services in detention centers for migrants, leading MSF to cease its medical activities in centers in the north of Greece. The authorities should provide uninterrupted and extended access to health care for all detained migrants and asylum seekers.

Since 2004, MSF has provided medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants held in administrative detention facilities across Europe—in Greece, Malta, and Italy. In Greece, using only private funding, MSF has responded since 2008 to the urgent medical and humanitarian needs of newly arrived migrants, as well as to asylum seekers and migrants in administrative detention. Since 2013, MSF worked in six immigration detention facilities in the north of Greece, and made assessment visits to 27 regular and border police stations, coast guard facilities, and pre-removal centers across the country. Since last year, MSF teams have carried out 5,441 medical consultations, made 365 referrals to secondary health facilities, and 100 referrals for dental care, and treated more than 1,500 migrants for scabies. Twenty-two migrants were released on medical grounds as a result of MSF's intervention. MSF teams also distributed relief items to detained migrants, including 6,662 personal hygiene kits and 1,648 sets of clothes, shoes and sleeping bags.

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