Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers are currently stranded in precarious conditions across several Greek islands, despite repeated calls since December 2014 by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to Greek authorities and the European Union to address the lack of reception capacity.
An MSF emergency response team has arrived in Lesbos — one of the two islands in Greece that actually has organized reception facilities, but where the system is on the edge of collapse — in order to provide essential care for new arrivals. MSF is also continuing its existing activities for migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Kos and other Dodecanese islands.
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Overcrowded facilities and no access to water, shelter, latrines or care
Approximately 5,000 people, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, have arrived to Lesbos in the last few days. However, the existing Moria reception facility can only accommodate around 700 people, and suffers from overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions and lack of food. Thousands of new arrivals are therefore forced to camp out in the open, most of them in Kara Tepe — a plot of land without any form of management and where people have little or no access to water, shelter, latrines or medical care. Despite efforts by authorities to distribute food, the rations are insufficient to cover the needs of all people.
In Kos where MSF provides medical and humanitarian assistance to people arriving on the island, 700 people are sleeping on the floor among rubble and shattered glass in an old dilapidated building with a capacity of maximum 200. MSF medical teams are regularly receiving patients that are suffering from conditions such as scabies and skin infections — a direct result of unhygienic living conditions. Despite MSF’s efforts to clean and improve the water and sanitation facilities, conditions can only be significantly improved by action and willingness by the local authorities to address the situation.
'Violation of EU obligations'
“While MSF and other organizations can assist in the humanitarian response, the efficiency and impact of any relief efforts will be seriously hampered by the failure to provide and maintain an adequate reception system” says Stathis Kyroussis, MSF’s head of mission in Greece. “The current situation is a violation of Greece's and the EU's obligations towards asylum seekers and migrants in Greece. Given the deep economic crisis that Greece is facing, it cannot be assumed that Greece can cope with this alone. The EU and its member states should urgently deploy humanitarian resources such as emergency funding and material assistance to support Greece in responding to the basic needs of newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers. UNHCR also needs to take direct responsibility, translate their words into real action, and step up its response in delivering humanitarian assistance.”
“Leaving people to fend for themselves in an abandoned building or a field full of garbage where there is hardly any water or latrines is simply unacceptable and is putting people's health at risk,” says Elisabetta Faga, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Lesbos. “Greek authorities should provide additional places under administrative responsibility of the state, where humanitarian assistance, such as food, shelter, sanitation and medical care can be provided by other organizations. Authorities also need to ensure that efficient registration procedures are put in place, and that new arrivals are provided with information about what to do and where to go.”
MSF plans to soon provide medical consultations, cleaning services and relief items, and to work on improving water and sanitation in the Kara Tepe and Moria camps. MSF has already begun providing bus transportation so new arrivals do not need to walk the 70-kilometre distance from arrival points on the north coast to the registration centre in Mitilini.