Greece: Confinement, violence and chaos in Moria refugee camp

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 — More than 8,000 men, women and children are trapped on the island of Lesvos, where the situation in Moria refugee camp is descending into chaos. With regular clashes and riots, incidents of sexual violence, and many people’s mental health deteriorating, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls for the vulnerable to be moved out of Moria into secure accommodation. 

There are currently over 8,000 people crammed into a space for 3,000 in Moria, in cramped and unhygienic conditions. MSF is extremely concerned about the severe toll such conditions are taking on people’s mental health. Many are in limbo, trapped in these living conditions for months or years while the EU upholds its containment policy.

In the main area of Moria camp and Olive Grove, there are 72 people per functioning toilet and 84 people per functioning shower. This is well below the recommended humanitarian standard in emergency situations.

“Part of the reason people's mental health deteriorates so drastically here in Lesvos is that they come from traumatising experiences, and reach Europe hoping for refuge and dignity, but what they find is the opposite: more violence and more inhumane conditions,” said Giovanna Bonvini, Mental Health Activity Manager at Mytilene clinic, where MSF accepts the most severe cases of mental health problems. This clinic is currently at full capacity.

These poor living conditions are resulting in tensions building in the camp, where there are regular violent clashes. In the past few months, MSF has witnessed further escalations of everyday violence in Moria, and treated cases of sexual violence that have occurred in and around the camp.

“A young man who was a victim of sexual violence was bought to the clinic recently by a friend in the midst of a psychotic breakdown. He has severe PTSD and was suffering from hallucinations and flashbacks, noises from all around, and could not stop crying during the two-hour session,” said Bonvini. “He is scared of the dark and is constantly terrified of being attacked in Moria. The team started him on medication and he is having intensive psychological sessions, so he is now stable. But he will never make much progress, for as long as he is living in Moria, he will be locked in a cycle of despair and distress.”

MSF is receiving around 15-18 referrals per week from other NGOs for people with acute mental health problems, including children. MSF is the only actor providing such specialised mental health care for this large and vulnerable population. However, there is an unmatched demand for mental health services with many more suffering from severe mental health problems than we have the capacity to treat.

“The majority of these people are new arrivals suffering from psychotic symptoms including hallucinations, agitation, confusion, disorientation, and who have strong suicidal ideations or have attempted suicide,” said Dr. Alessandro Barberio, MSF Psychiatrist at Mytilene clinic. “In the past four weeks we have also received an increase in the number of minors suffering from intense panic attacks, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

MSF insist on an end to policies of containment, and call on the EU and state authorities to step up access to healthcare and security for those in the camp. The deterrence policy of the EU Turkey deal is not an effective one; people will continue to flee war and terror in order to survive. Trapping these people in awful and unsafe conditions is simply further traumatising an already extremely vulnerable population.