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One year after the EU-Turkey deal: migrants and asylum seekers are paying the price with their health

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Athens / Brussels – One year after the EU-Turkey Deal, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a report to expose the human costs of European policy failures in Greece and the Balkans. MSF calls on the EU and member state leaders to radically change their approach to migration and ensure a swift end to the unnecessary suffering of the thousands caught in the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal.

One Year on From the EU-Turkey Deal: Challenging the EU’s Alternative Facts pdf — 15.06 MB Download

The European Council stated that the deal, which rewards Turkey for “stemming the flow” of migrants and refugees and accepting those forcibly returned from Greek shores, would offer migrants “an alternative to putting their lives at risk”. One year after, men, women and children are trapped in unsafe zones outside Europe, unable to flee, forced to use even more dangerous smuggling routes to reach Europe, or they are trapped in overcrowded “hotspots” on the Greek islands.

“The deal is having a direct impact on the health of our patients, and many are becoming more vulnerable,” says Jayne Grimes, MSF psychologist in Samos. “These people have fled extreme violence, torture and war and survived extremely dangerous journeys. Today, their anxiety and depression is aggravated by the lack of information on their legal status and their poor living conditions. They are losing any hope that they will find a safer, better future than the one they fled. I often see people who contemplate suicide or self-mutilate.”

According to the report “One Year on From the EU-Turkey Deal: Challenging the EU’s Alternative Facts”, MSF psychologists in Lesvos saw the percentage of patients with anxiety and depression increase by two and a half and the percentage of those with post-traumatic stress disorder increase threefold. Symptoms of psychosis also increased. This all coincides with our teams seeing more patients with severe trauma, and more cases of self-harm and suicide attempts. Through the nearly 300 mental health consultations MSF teams in Samos have conducted, they have seen a similar deterioration and an escalation in self-harm and suicide attempts in recent months.

European leaders continue to believe that by building fences and punishing those who still try to cross them, they will deter others from fleeing for their lives. Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF humanitarian adviser on displacement

Along the Balkan route in Serbia and Hungary, MSF teams have seen an increase in patients reporting trauma linked to the violence they have experienced since the closure of the Balkan route, a few days before the EU-Turkey deal.

“Every day we treat the wounds, both physical and psychological, inflicted by these deterrence policies. Such measures have proven to be not only inhumane and unacceptable, but also completely ineffective,” concludes Ponthieu.

MSF decided to suspend funds from the EU and Member States in opposition to the EU-Turkey deal. We reiterate that full respect of the right to seek asylum, the opening of safe and legal alternatives for the movement of people, such as resettlement, relocation, humanitarian visas and family reunification, as well as work and study visas are the only humane solution to end death and suffering at Europe’s borders, on land and at sea.

MSF has provided medical and humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in Greece since 1996. In 2015, we launched an emergency response when thousands of people began to arrive each day on the Greek islands from Turkey with the aim of crossing the Balkans to reach northern Europe. MSF teams currently work in more than 20 locations across Greece, focusing mainly on mental healthcare, sexual and reproductive healthcare and treatment for patients with chronic diseases. 

In 2016, MSF medical teams in Greece carried out 72,740 health consultations, including: 8,207 mental health consultations, 3,195 sexual and reproductive health consultations, as well as 61,338 medical consultations, covering primary health care, physiotherapy, treatment for chronic diseases and more.

MSF has worked in Serbia since late 2014, providing medical care and mental healthcare and setting up shelters and water and sanitation facilities at the locations where people enter and leave the country, as well as in the capital Belgrade. Since early 2016, our teams have run a clinic and mobile clinic in Belgrade to provide general and mental healthcare. Throughout 2016, MSF teams distributed essential relief items and lobbied for vulnerable people stranded in Serbia to have greater access to healthcare and adequate shelter and protection.