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Children with Chronic diseases in Moria

Greece denies healthcare to seriously ill refugee children on Lesbos

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  • Seriously ill children – including those with life-threatening diseases – living on Lesbos, Greece, are being deprived of medical care.
  • The Greek government has also revoked access to public medical care for all 55,000 asylum seekers and people who have arrived undocumented in Greece.
  • MSF urges the Greek government to immediately evacuate all people, prioritising children, who are suffering from chronic, complex and serious diseases.

Athens – In Moria camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, the Greek government is deliberately depriving at least 140 children with chronic, complex and life-threatening diseases of adequate medical care. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling on the Greek government to act on these grave medical concerns and evacuate all severely ill children to the Greek mainland or other EU member states, where they can receive appropriate medical care.  

“We see many children suffering from medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, who are forced to live in tents, in abysmal, unhygienic conditions, with no access to the specialised medical care and medication they need,” says Dr Hilde Vochten, MSF’s medical coordinator in Greece. “MSF is in discussions with the Greek authorities in order to transfer children to the mainland for urgent medical care, but despite the fact that some children were screened, none have been transferred yet.”  

“The government’s general unwillingness to find a swift, systemic solution for these children, including some babies, is outrageous – it harms their health and could lead to life-long consequences or even death,” Dr Vochten says.


Zahra's parents try to find care for her

In July 2019, the Greek government revoked access to public healthcare for asylum seekers and undocumented people arriving in Greece, leaving more than 55,000 people without medical care.

Since March 2019, doctors in MSF’s paediatric health centre outside Moria camp on Lesbos have seen more than 270 cases of children suffering from chronic and complex illnesses, such as heart disease, epilepsy and diabetes.

These require specialised treatment, which the MSF health centre is not equipped to provide. The local public hospital on Lesbos is also incapable of providing care for this additional number of patients and some specialised services are not available.

“My daughter, Zahra, is suffering from autism and we live a tiny space with almost no electricity,” says Shamseyeh, from Afghanistan, who lives in Moria camp. “Often in the middle of the night she has seizures and there is no one to help us. I just want to be in a space where my daughter can play like other children and be treated by a good doctor.”

Denying children suffering from serious diseases access to healthcare is just the latest cynical move, and it is truly beyond belief. Tommaso Santo, MSF head of mission in Greece

For the last four years, MSF has repeatedly denounced Moria camp as a human tragedy driven by government policies. This situation makes it clear, once again, that the migration policies generated by the EU-Turkey deal of 2016 are creating unnecessary suffering and putting many lives in danger.

“Children, women and men are paying the unjust price of migration policies based on deterrence,” says Tommaso Santo, MSF head of mission in Greece. “Denying children suffering from serious diseases access to healthcare is just the latest cynical move, and it is truly beyond belief.”

MSF calls for the:

  • The immediate evacuation from Lesbos of all people suffering from chronic and complex conditions, prioritising children by establishing a system of regular transfer, to appropriate accommodation near providers of specialised medical care.
  • The urgent and immediate provision of access to free, timely and adequate healthcare for all asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors and undocumented people in Greece.
  • The end of the system of containment of refugees and asylum seekers in horrific and inhumane conditions on Lesbos.

MSF has been providing medical and humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in Greece since 1996. In 2014, MSF expanded its activities in Greece to meet the needs of an increasing number of asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants arriving on the Greek islands and mainland from Turkey. Since 2016, MSF medical teams in Greece have provided services including basic healthcare, treatment for chronic diseases, sexual and reproductive healthcare, physiotherapy, clinical psychological care and psychiatric care, along with a comprehensive social support package. Today, MSF teams work on the islands of Lesbos, Samos and in central Athens.

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Project Update 16 July 2020