In Greece, MSF is assisting national authorities in their COVID-19 response, as well as providing training and support for the National Public Health Organisation’s triage system. However, with more than 17,500 people still living in overcrowded tents or containers, accessing running water and healthcare services is problematic for many, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We are promoting health information to camp residents and we are ready to support referrals of patients presenting symptoms related to COVID-19.
On Lesbos island, MSF teams were previously operating an emergency inpatient medical unit near Moria for people with COVID-19 symptoms. Unfortunately, the centre has been forced to close due to administrative issues with local urban planning officials. While MSF’s clinic was opened in May with the full support of all relevant authorities, MSF has not received the required documentation to remain open and must therefore shut down this particular operation. We continue to search for alternative solutions that allow us to provide essential COVID-19 care to the migrants and asylum seekers that remain trapped in the Moria reception centre.
On Samos island, we are increasing the provision of water and sanitation services to camp residents, and are carrying out health promotion activities to ensure residents are aware of the risks associated with COVID-19 and the importance of preventing transmission.
In Athens, we are collaborating with Athens University in providing psychological support to frontline workers, COVID-19 patients and their family members. We have donated personal protective equipment to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, refugees, the homeless, victims of gender-based violence, detainees, and those with mental health concerns.
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Médecins Sans Frontières has provided medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees in Greece since 1996. Migrants and refugees continue to be the focus of MSF activities on the Greek mainland and the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios.
Migrants making the journey across the Mediterranean
MSF activities expanded in 2014 to meet the needs of the increasing numbers reaching the Greek shores from Turkey. Since the closure of the Balkan route and the EU deal with Turkey in March 2016, many have been prevented from leaving the Greek islands while waiting for a decision on their claim for asylum.
The asylum process is opaque; migrants and refugees have been left stranded, without access to basic services, adequate shelter or information on their legal status. Those who reach the mainland often live in inadequate conditions, waiting for their refugee status or relocation to camps or flats.
Asylum seekers travelling to Europe experience the detrimental physical and mental health effects of prolonged detention, the lack of necessary care or interruption of treatment. MSF’s goal is to assist refugees in maintaining a basic level of hygiene, health and dignity.
Our attention is focused on Greece’s Dodecanese islands, where many refugees first make land in desperate conditions, and on the border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Greek "Prison" Islands
The number of migrants arriving on Lesbos sharply decreased after the signing of the EU-Turkey deal. For those who have made the journey, the Greek government enforces a policy of containment, resulting in thousands of men, women and children in Lesbos living in limbo in squalid, overcrowded conditions, with insufficient access to health care.
Thousands of people, the majority of whom fled wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are detained behind layers of razor wire, locked up without charge, many beyond the maximum 25 day period, and in putrid spaces designed to temporarily host people for only a few days.
Moria camp is both unsafe and unsanitary, especially for children. Every day we treat many hygiene-related conditions such as vomiting, diarrhoea, skin infections and other infectious diseases, and we must then return these people to the same risky living conditions. It’s an unbearable vicious circle.
MSF deploys rescue teams to give first aid, distribute relief items such as meals, blankets, clothes and tents, and provide transport to people who need to reach the camps and medical facilities further inland.
A team organised outreach activities in Moria camp on Lesbos Island to identify specific vulnerabilities and mental health needs. The needs of the most vulnerable (namely children) are not being met due to a lack of resources. The demand for our sexual and reproductive health service is also increasing.
MSF has been running three clinics in Athens to respond to the specific needs of migrants and refugees. MSF provides sexual and reproductive healthcare, treatment for chronic diseases and mental health support. Teams have also started operating a travel medicine clinic to provide support to people moving on from Athens.