In a report released on Wednesday, the group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called on the EU and Greece to completely change the conditions in which migrants live on their territory, and their entire approach to migration.
“For more than five years, the EU policy of containing people and processing their asylum applications in hotspots on the Greek islands has created an unprecedented crisis and tremendous human suffering. These are not unintended consequences,” said Reem Mussa, MSF humanitarian advisor, on migration and one of the authors of the report.
“The EU’s hotspot model is designed not only to process migrants’ asylum applications, but also to deter others who dare to seek safety in Europe,” Mussa charged.
The report, “Constructing Crisis at Europe’s Borders,” says that the EU’s migration policies put the health, wellbeing and safety of immigrants on the Greek islands in jeopardy.
People who have survived violence and hardship are stuck in appalling conditions, with a lack of information on their legal status and subjected to harsh border and asylum procedures, it says. This system has inflicted misery on people, put their lives in danger and erodes the right to asylum, MSF claims.
According to the report, during 2019 and 2020, MSF mental health clinics on Chios, Lesvos and Samos islands in Greece treated 1,369 patients, many of whom suffered from severe mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
More than 180 people treated by MSF had self-harmed, or attempted suicide. Two-thirds of them were children, and the youngest was just six years old.
MSF patients cited daily stresses and constant fears as major factors impacting people’s wellbeing and mental health. These include navigating life in poor conditions, complicated administrative and asylum procedures, exposure to violence and insecurity, family separation, unaddressed medical needs, and fear of deportation.
Migrants in Greece “lack basic life essentials”
Furthermore, the report says, even the most basic life essentials have been neglected on the Greek islands. MSF and other NGOs have been continuously forced to step in to provide crucial services, from healthcare to water.
Between October 2019 and May 2021, MSF teams trucked in over 43 million liters of clean water for people in the over-crowded Vathy camp on Samos, where the water is unsafe to drink.
“Despite claiming to change for the better, the EU and the Greek government are spending millions of euros to standardize and intensify policies that have already done so much harm,” says Iorgos Karagiannis, MSF Head of Mission in Greece.
“Shockingly, Lesvos’s Moria hotspot, which was not only dysfunctional but deadly, is now the blueprint for a new prison-like center on Samos,” says Karagiannis.
“The new facility is in a remote, exposed area of the island and will hold people in shipping containers, surrounded by barbed wire, with controlled entry and exit. This cannot be sold as an improvement in people’s living conditions.
“Instead it will continue to cause a degradation in people’s mental health, a further protection crisis and will make the suffering of those trapped on the Greek islands even more invisible.”
The EU and the Greek government are intensifying the crisis by planning new Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centers (MPRICs) in remote locations on the Greek islands, the report charges. One of these restrictive centers is already being built on Samos and may be operational in June of 2021.
“It is not too late for compassion and common sense,” says Mussa. “The EU and its Member States should end polices of containment and ensure people arriving in Europe have access to urgent assistance, facilitate access to protection and relocation to safe reception and integration in communities across Europe.”