Greece’s treatment of migrants,
asylum seekers in the spotlight
Médecins Sans Frontières is urging the Greek authorities
to carefully measure the impact of detention on
the well-being of migrants and asylum seekers, to
seek alternatives to the detention of new arrivals and
to ensure that detained migrants and asylum seekers
are treated in a humane and dignified manner and
that those who wish to do so are given the possibility
to seek asylum. MSF outlines criteria from a new
report which looks at the impact of the Greek detention
system on migrants and asylum seekers.
Every year tens of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants from
Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Palestine and Pakistan arrive in Greece, the
southeastern border of the European Union. Many have left unstable or
war-torn countries or are escaping persecution, human rights violations
or extreme poverty.
Through its new report Greece: lives on hold from humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) aims to raise awareness
and express concerns about the impact of the current detention system
on the mental health and well-being of migrants and asylum seekers
arriving in Greece.
From August 2009 to May 2010, MSF provided psychosocial support
to detained migrants and asylum seekers in three detention centers:
Pagani in Lesvos, Filakio in Evros, and Venna in Rodopi. At the same
time, MSF raised concerns with the authorities, urging them to improve
living conditions and services provided in the detention centers. The
report documents the unacceptable living conditions in the three detention
centers where MSF intervened and presents data from psychological
counseling sessions as well as individual testimonies. It shows that
detention can exacerbate existing symptoms and contribute to new
traumas and psychological distress.
The new arrivals include adults, unaccompanied minors and families.
Lacking legal ways to travel to Europe, migrants and asylum seekers alike are
forced to use the services of smugglers and thus often fall
victim to exploitation or violence by criminal networks. Once
they arrive in Greece, irregular migrants and asylum seekers are
systematically detained. They are kept in detention centres
located along the eastern Greek borders or in other detention
facilities, such as police stations. According to the law they can be
detained for a period of up to six months. Most are released within
a few weeks and are given a written order to leave the country
within 30 days.
Asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Greece have often
experienced traumatic events. Almost one-third of MSF patients
spoke about attacks by armed groups, bombings, beatings or other
forms of violence that they suffered directly or witnessed in their
countries of origin. MSF psychologists observed symptoms of posttraumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) in 9.5% of the patients. A
further 15% of the patients expressed anxiety and worry about
family members they had left behind.
However, being detained was the single most important
reason of frustration for the majority of the irregular migrants
and asylum seekers. For most, detention was a painful and inhumane
experience. Of the 305 migrants seen in first consultations,
39% presented symptoms of anxiety such as constant
worry, fear, panic, restlessness, while 31% presented symptoms
of depression, such as sadness, loss of interest, hopelessness, and
thoughts of death. Three percent of MSF patients attempted
suicide or self-harm because they felt detention was unbearable
or because they wanted to protest about the length of detention.
Living conditions in detention facilities in Greece do not meet
national and international standards. Overcrowding was a
persistent problem in some detention facilities. Sanitary conditions
are usually very poor. Overcrowding and poor hygienic
conditions can contribute to the spreading of several medical
conditions, including dermatological infections such as scabies
and viral infections such as measles.
Not being allowed out of the cells into the fresh air was also
a significant concern for migrants. In the detention centres
where MSF worked, families were separated and were given
little opportunity for communication, which increased feelings
of anxiety and insecurity. Patients also complained to MSF
teams about the degrading and abusive behaviour of police and
other detention centre staff.
No provisions are in place to meet the needs of vulnerable
groups, including unaccompanied minors, infants, pregnant
women, and people with disabilities. Detention centres lack
support staff and interpreters. Migrants and asylum seekers receive
no or little information about their legal status and the detention
Migrants consistently complained to MSF teams that they
received inadequate medical care and had difficulties communicating
with the doctors. Reasons for inadequate health care in
detention centres included the insufficient number of medical
personnel, the absence of interpreter services, and the lack of a
standard protocol for the medical screening and follow up of new
arrivals. In addition, detained migrants did not receive any
psychosocial support apart from that offered by MSF.
of upload: 25th Sep 2010