Looking for a quick solution to decongest the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands, the Greek government has begun to evict more than 11,000 beneficiaries of international protection from their supported accommodation in Greece, many of whom are extremely vulnerable.
MSF is calling on the Greek government to suspend evictions of vulnerable people, including survivors of sexual violence, torture and ill treatment, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases; to identify immediate accommodation solutions and to enlarge the existing accommodation programmes. Given the close cooperation between the UK and Greece, MSF is also calling on the UK government to ensure that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers can access humanitarian support and services wherever they are in their journeys to reaching safety.
Vulnerable patients abandoned
“We have patients with serious medical conditions who are being abandoned, while women in an advanced stage of pregnancy are sleeping on Victoria Square in central Athens,” says Marine Berthet, MSF medical coordinator in Greece. “In the middle of a global pandemic, governments should be protecting and shielding people at high risk of COVID-19, not throwing them out onto the streets and leaving them without protection, shelter or access to basic healthcare.”
In June, an extremely vulnerable MSF patient died from a cardiac arrest shortly after she was threatened with eviction and subsequently left her accommodation.
“Our patient who died was paraplegic and had multiple serious medical conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, yet she had been threatened with eviction on multiple occasions,” says Berthet. “Under the fear of losing her home, her family moved her to Schisto camp, where her son was staying in a container with 12 other people; two days later she suffered a cardiac arrest and died.”
“The case of the woman who died is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Berthet. “We have patients with cancer, survivors of torture, single mothers with chronic diseases and heavily pregnant women who are essentially being told to sleep rough, without any support.”
At least 30 other MSF patients with serious medical conditions have either been evicted or notified of eviction, and now face the prospect of being homeless and cut off from cash assistance.
Many MSF patients with serious chronic diseases have had their possessions removed from their accommodation and been told they must leave, without any indication of where they should go. Dozens of other patients have been notified that they must leave, while their cash assistance has been stopped, despite their being extremely vulnerable. Meanwhile, the city squares are filling up with vulnerable refugees, including children, pregnant women, newborn babies, people with severe chronic conditions and survivors of torture and sexual violence.
In June this year, Greece’s Ministry of Migration and Asylum pledged to cut spending on the housing programme for asylum seekers by up to 30%. Meanwhile, in February, the Greek government has been awarded EU funds to enlarge the accommodation scheme on the mainland. However, so far no extra accommodation has been made available.
In response to the hundreds of refugees sleeping on the streets of Victoria Square in Athens, MSF is referring those most in need of medical care to its Day Care Centre in Athens. However, the refugees’ most basic needs are not being covered.
Action needed - including from the UK government
MSF urgently calls on the Greek government, the EU and all organisations involved in providing shelter to find immediate accommodation solutions for all those refugees currently sleeping on the streets of Athens, and to halt evictions of refugees until all administrative barriers to integration and access to healthcare have been lifted.
Less than three months after signing a joint UK-Greece action plan committing to supporting the most vulnerable, it is crucial that the UK government also play their part. Under this action plan, the UK government has committed to enhanced cooperation with Greek law enforcement on migration, resettlement, and returning people to their countries of origin.
“What our teams in Athens and on the Greek islands are witnessing does not reflect the UK government’s commitment to protecting vulnerable people in Greece,” says Vickie Hawkins, executive director of MSF UK. “Instead, our medical teams are seeing the dire impact of policy decisions which leave vulnerable people abandoned.
“Given this close partnership with Greece, it is vital that the UK government ensure that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers can access humanitarian support and services wherever they are in their journeys to reaching safety. The UK government must fulfil its responsibility to protect them, and this must include through opportunities for vulnerable people to seek sanctuary in the UK.”