MSF ends emergency intervention in Lesvos island, Greece

Athens - During a press conference held in Athens today, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced the closure of its four-month emergency intervention in the detention center for migrants of Lesvos (Mytiline) urging the authorities to assume their responsibilities and provide medical care and human living conditions for the migrants.

The MSF emergency intervention begun in June 2008, following an exploratory mission that confirmed lack of access to medical care and psychological support, and extremely poor living conditions for the migrants held in the detention center. However, the lack of support and commitment by the authorities severely affected the organization's efforts to provide medical assistance and improve the living conditions for the detained population. Given these circumstances, MSF feels that the further continuation of the project inside the detention center in Lesvos is no longer viable.

"The limited and inconsistent contribution of the authorities hampered our efforts to offer medical care and improve conditions inside the detention center" stated Yorgos Karagiannis, Head of Mission of the MSF project for undocumented migrants in Greece. "There were many occasions when the medical team had to examine patients through bars, as the migrants were not allowed to exit the chambers.

"It took more than three months [and pressure from MSF and other actors] for the detained population to be allowed to use the yard on a regular basis, for another medical doctor to be assigned to the facility and for basic maintenance works to begin. The technical works that we carried out in order to improve the living conditions would have made significant difference, yet the authorities could not guarantee minimum maintenance and cleaning procedures.

"They have to finally show the commitment required for the situation, as there are still women, minors and infants detained in the same premises as adults and men, under unacceptable conditions, without any special attention to their increased needs."

Since the beginning of the project, MSF has provided medical assistance and psychological support to the detained migrants, who are mostly coming from Afghanistan, Somalia or Palestine and fleeing from war, violence, hunger and extreme hardship. It is indicative that the total number of migrants arrested in the island up to August 2008 reached 6,863 (according to data from the policy authorities of Lesvos) already exceeding the total number of 2007 (6,147 people).

Despite the limited access, MSF treated 1,202 patients addressing mainly pathologies like respiratory infections and dermatological diseases. Moreover, it provided psychological care to migrants suffering mostly from anxiety, post traumatic stress disorders and depression. The organisation estimates that the numbers of patients treated would have been twice as high if there was free access to the population.

MSF underlines the need for immediate measures from the authorities to ensure human living conditions and medical assistance within the detention center, especially for women and children, and to guarantee sustainability to any improvements made in the facility. The organization will closely monitor the situation in the detention centers and continue to respond to the needs of undocumented migrants in the country.