Harin Halil
Greece

Alarming mental health distress among asylum seekers on Greek islands

Four months after the fire that destroyed Moria and despite promises from the EU that there will never be another Moria, more than 15,000 women, men and children are still trapped ahead of winter in unsafe and humiliating conditions on Greece's islands.  As the European policy to contain people on the islands continues, MSF’s mental health teams in Lesbos and Samos have continued to observe concerning levels of mental health distress among our patients.

Samos

On Samos island, 3,500 people are squashed in a centre for 648 in absolutely miserable conditions. Most of them live in makeshift tents in the forest next to the official facility, lacking access to enough showers and sanitation as well as appropriate shelters to keep warm. 

Our mental health team in Vathy camp has recently seen a concerning rise in patients with severe symptoms as it has done several times already in 2020. In November, 60 per cent of new patients arriving at our clinic expressed suicidal thoughts and our team considered 37 per cent of them to be at risk of suicide. Our colleagues are monitoring the situation. 

“After each critical and harmful event, such as the fires, the recent earthquake, the lockdown, we have seen an increase of severe cases in our clinic, with a deeply worrying rise in suicide and self-harm thoughts from people trapped in the camp,” says Lindsay, MSF psychiatrist on Samos island.

“The protracted containment in poor living conditions and ongoing uncertainty regarding asylum claims contribute to exacerbate mental health difficulties among residents of the camp, many of who have already experienced traumatic events in their country of origin or during their journey to Greece. Without these issues being addressed, it is impossible to provide effective treatment to our patients. They need a safe and stable environment in order to recover.”

Despite EU promises, the fires in Moria, Samos and Chios have not burnt down the harmful logic of containment on the Greek islands and people will have to face another winter in inhumane conditions exposed to the elements, in absolute despair, this time amidst a global pandemic. Stephan Oberreit, MSF head of mission in Greece
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Vathy camp on Samos island

Lesbos

On Lesbos island, more than 7,000 asylum seekers, 2,500 of them children, continue to live in tents frequently flooded due to the inadequate shelter against the elements.

Recently, the horrific episode of a three-year-old girl raped inside the camp showed the shocking inadequacy of the protection measures available in the camp as well the urgent need for safe and dignified accommodations for the most vulnerable.

Since the fire and the transfer to the new camp, MSF’s child psychologists have continued to note concerning symptoms in our patients, including sleepwalking, nightmares, regressive behaviour, as well as self-harm and suicidal ideation. In 2020, our child psychologists have treated 49 children with suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

“We continue to see hopelessness, despair, depressive symptoms and some extreme cases of reactive psychosis, self-harm and suicidal ideation,” says Thanasis Chirvatidis, MSF child psychologist working on Lesbos island.

“The most severe cases of children we see are those who want to be isolated or express the desire to end their lives. They want to be inside the tent all the time, they do not want to socialise and they wish to die to stop the pain, to stop feeling like that.”

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Lesbos

“Despite EU promises, the fires in Moria, Samos and Chios have not burnt down the harmful logic of containment on the Greek islands and people will have to face another winter in inhumane conditions exposed to the elements, in absolute despair, this time amidst a global pandemic,” says Stephan Oberreit, MSF’s head of mission in Greece.

“To make it worse, the future looks even more hopeless. A new “multi-purpose reception and identification centre” has been built five kilometres from Vathy camp in an isolated spot waiting to be inaugurated and another one will be created in Lesbos. Extensive barbed wire intends to contain people, and even surrounds children’s playgrounds. Let’s be very clear, these dystopian plans will only renew the inacceptable EU migration strategy, leading to more unmeasurable human suffering, making it even more invisible.”

MSF urges the EU and Greek authorities to immediately move all asylum seekers, especially the most vulnerable, to safe accommodation and to reconsider the unacceptable commitment to large, new closed camps at the borders, which will only further entrap people and exacerbate mental health issues. The Greek authorities should also take measures to improve special guarantees for mental health patients on the islands, and evacuate the most vulnerable to safe accommodation on the mainland or other EU states.

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