Greece: Testimonies from Syrian refugees and MSF staff

Testimonies from refugees & MSF teams. Leros and Kos Islands, Greece
Collected between 12th - 16th November, 2014


Dimitris Jannussis, MSF Doctor

“The people who arrive in the Greek islands have gone through a lot of hardship. We have seen people suffering from hypothermia and respiratory tract infections. They have suffered a lot, both physically and psychologically.

Providing them with medical treatment is of the utmost importance. The conditions on arrival are also taking a toll on their health.    

Most of these people have been rescued at sea. By the time we examine them, they are very cold and have suffered considerably. From what I’ve seen, the conditions on arrival are  inadequate for their needs, and major improvements need to be made. Heated areas should be provided, as well as separate areas for vulnerable groups such as children, older people and the wounded.

We examined a Syrian amputee who had to share a toilet with 50-60 others. We have seen children and others who are soaked to the skin yet are are forced to sleep outdoors. There are people suffering from diabetes, and yet there is no provision for medical screening or special nutritional requirements.

All of these conditions are harmful to people’s health, as well as insulting their dignity as human beings.

I was particularly struck by all the unaccompanied children fleeing war who come to Greece in search of a better future.”

Ebmesam, 64, from Syria

We met Ebmesam on the island of Leros the day after he arrived in Greece. He was shaking and his clothes were soaking wet. On examination, the doctor said he was suffering from hypothermia.

“The journey from Turkey was hard. But compared to what I faced in Syria or Egypt, it was nothing. We were 28 people and the boat was too small. I believe that we only made it thanks to God – otherwise we would all have died. The smuggler abandoned us on a Greek island. We were found and arrested by people dressed in black. For two hours, we were bent over, almost lying on the ground, in the heavy rain. When you found me [the following morning], I was soaking wet. I was praying to God that I would be able to continue with my journey. At the moment, I feel better. I have a bad sore throat, but I will make it. I am fine.”

“In Leros, I had really hard time in the police station. If the MSF doctors hadn’t come to examine me, I would have been shouting in desperation to get out and breathe fresh air. The cell is extremely small, and I suffer from chronic asthma. It is supposed to hold two people, but there were 12 of us inside. Police stations in Leros don’t have the necessary facilities –  water, toilets, that kind of thing.”


Souleiman, 29, from Syria

We met Souleiman on the island of Kos, soon after his release from the local police station. He was waiting for the boat to Athens.

I have seen awful things during the war. Devastation. That’s all I can say. I have suffered beatings and torture. I have seen children dying from hunger. I have seen people dying because they couldn’t get hold of the medicines they needed.

I had to pay a considerable amount of money to flee the country. First I went to Istanbul. I wanted to work in Turkey, but there was no work for me there. I was paid 1,100 Turkish liras a month, which isn’t enough to live on. I stayed in Istanbul for three months, and then I left for Izmir. We tried to cross to the other side three times.

The first time, we travelled 2.5 hours from Izmir so as to cross to the Greek island of Chios. When we were about perhaps 300-400 metres from Turkey’side, the Greek authorities arrived and pushed us back to Turkey. Then the Turkish authorities arrived and pulled us back. There were 43 of us in that boat.  

The second time, we were caught after 40 minutes in the boat. The Greek authorities arrived, and told us to stop. When we took no notice, they shot into the air and we stopped. It was raining heavily and I was very scared. How could you not be scared?

The third time, there were heavy seas. The boat got damaged and we returned to Turkey.

The fourth time, they told me that I had to pay another 200 Euros, and they took us to Bodrum. From there, we finally crossed over into Greece. The first time I paid 1,100 Euros, the second time 1,250 Euros, and the third time I borrowed money from a friend who lives in Europe, and I still need to repay him.

If I had to describe the conditions in Kos police station of Kos in one sentence, I’d say that there is no hygiene at all. It just doesn’t exist. I don’t want to say anything more than that.


Mohajer, 18, from Syria

We met Mohajer at the police station on the island of Kos. He had been there four days. Mohajer suffers from diabetes, and when examined by a doctor, was found to have high blood sugar levels – not helped by the food he was getting.

Mohajer asked for a better insulin injection device since his own was not working properly. When we found and brought to him Mohajer was extremely happy and grateful.

I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was seven. I left Syria because, ever since the war started, there has been no adequate healthcare. I need insulin, but this is no longer available. Before the war, I was treated by a doctor and could get hold of the right medication. Now there is nothing. Medical treatment is impossible for me.

Shortly before I left, I was called up to serve in the army. I hide myself in a truck and managed to leave the area. I had to pass through territory controlled by various armed groups, and I had to persuade them to let me escape. I was all alone. I crossed into Turkey – the first time I had been there. Some acquaintances of mine put me up. After a couple of days, I found myself in Izmir. Everyone there knows that foreigners who turn up in the city are keen to get to Europe. I managed to cross into Greece on my third attempt.

When we were brought to Kos police station, there were 30 people already here. There was no space at all. We had to sleep on the floor, wherever we could find space. The toilets are very dirty and there is no hygiene at all.