Refugees in Greece: Most Vulnerable, Most Neglected

Victoria square in Athens.
Sara Prestianni
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Seven months after the European Union and Turkey signed a deal designed to limit the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe, and despite the EU’s sizable funding pledges, more than 50,000 migrants and refugees still live in woefully substandard conditions in Greece, lacking proper access to health care and other services.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is particularly concerned for the most vulnerable of the refugees. This includes people who were victims of violence, people with chronic diseases and psychiatric disorders, people whose mobility is limited, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, and newborn babies. Their specific needs are not being attended to, putting their well-being at even greater risk.

MSF urges the Greek authorities to fulfill their legal obligations to provide assistance to a population in danger now on its soil and to provide, with the support of EU member states, a truly adequate response that is based on individual needs, not the nationalities of the people.

In the report “Greece in 2016: Vulnerable People Left Behind,” MSF highlights the gaps within the current system that the vulnerable people are not being properly identified and thus not receiving the appropriate levels of protection and care.

“It is appalling that seven months after the EU/Turkey deal, vulnerable people are still not properly cared for in Greece,” says Loic Jaeger, MSF’s Head of Mission in Greece. “The hotspots on the islands are at 200 percent capacity and the services in the mainland camps sub-standard. The EU funded response is too slow and the public health system in Greece is overwhelmed. As a result, the most vulnerable people are left without the care they desperately need.”

In addition, the report illustrates how the psychological well-being of men, women, and children is affected by their precarious situation and uncertain future: “The people we work with have been through unimaginable trauma in their home countries and on the journey to Greece,” says Christina Sideri, an MSF psychologist. “For them, being blocked in Greece is like being in an open air prison. Moreover, the asylum process is so slow that many will have their first asylum appointment in April or May of next year. This delay and the uncertainty this means for their future is devastating.”

MSF teams that witnessed the misery people endured last winter are also very worried about the lack of planning for this year’s cold season. “We’ve heard about a national plan for months now, but people still live in tents in Northern Greece where the temperature has already dropped to 5 ° C,” Jaeger says. “How can Europe leave these people in the cold for yet another winter?"

The Greek government seems unwilling or unable to take the lead on the effort to ensure proper cooperation with the other actors on the ground. This severely undermines the quality and speed of the response. Likewise, the deliberate negligence of the EU and its member states when it comes to providing an efficient relocation system for those seeking safety and protection serves to prolong and intensify their suffering.

MSF urges the EU and the Greek authorities to immediately address the needs of the most vulnerable and to facilitate safe, legal, efficient ways for eligible people to have their applications to enter Europe processed, and their suffering alleviated.

MSF has been providing care to asylum seekers and migrants in Greece since 1996. MSF expanded its activities in 2015, when more than a million people entered the country in their attempt to reach Northern Europe. Currently, MSF is active in more than 20 different locations across the country—in Attica region, Central Greece, Epirus region, Thessaloniki and the Aegean islands of Lesbos and Samos—providing mental health care, sexual and reproductive health care, and chronic disease care.  In the first half of 2016, the organization provided more than 25.000 medical consultations in Greece.

In addition, MSF, in support to the Ministry of Health, has started a vaccination campaign against 10 preventable diseases including pneumococcus. To date, it has reached more than 7,000 refugee children between the ages of 6 weeks and 15 years in more than 20 locations across the country (Idomeni, Polycastro, Lesbos, Samos, Katsikas, Faneromeni, Konitsa, Doliana, Tsepelovo, Filippiada, Lavrio, Agios Andreas, Thermopiles, Elliniko, Elaionas, Piraeus, Derveni, Vagiochori, Kavalari, Kalochori, Sindos). 

 

Elleniko camp.
Sara Prestianni