April 24, 2015

Over the past 15 years, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been providing assistance to vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees across Europe.


Mediterranean search, rescue and medical aid

In May 2015, MSF will launch search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The organization will begin a joint operation with MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) on May 2. On board will be a team of five MSF staff who will work alongside the experienced MOAS search-and-rescue crew to provide medical care. The care onboard will range from primary care right through to resuscitation and advanced life support. The team will also be able to provide obstetric services including safe delivery and refer patients requiring further attention to hospitals onshore.




MSF started its project to assist migrants and seasonal workers in 1999. Since 2002, we have started to provide medical care to survivors of boat journeys, first in Lampedusa and then in other parts of Sicily, such as Ragusa, Siracusa, Calabria and Puglia.

Current project updates:

  • MSF is working in the first reception centre in Pozzallo (Ragusa province, Sicily) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, providing medical services to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees upon their arrival and during their stay in the centre.
  • From May 2015, MSF will start to provide “psychological first aid” to survivors of traumatic events experienced during their sea journeys, such as shipwrecks. A team composed of cultural mediators and a psychologist will be deployed to different landing ports in Sicily within 72 hours after receiving the alerts.
  • MSF also provides mental healthcare support to people living in reception centres in Ragusa province.
  • In 2014, MSF provided medical screenings to 26,081 migrants and refugees upon their arrival in Italy, and conducted in total 2,594 outpatient consultations and 700 mental-health screenings. In the first three months of 2015, the MSF team in Pozzallo provided medical screening to 1,349 people and outpatient consultations to 566 people.



Since 2008, MSF has responded to the urgent medical and humanitarian needs of newly arrived migrants in Greece, as well as asylum seekers and migrants in administrative detention. Currently, we are not working in detention centres.

Current projects updates:

  • MSF has been providing medical care and distributing relief items to migrants arriving in the Dodecanese islands. Since the beginning of this year, our team has been witnessing a huge increase of people. There remain inadequate reception systems orssistance for the arrivals. Currently on Kos island, the MSF team is conducting vulnerability screenings to identify the most groups such as pregnant women and minors, and providing medical consultations. From mid-March to April 20, MSF conducted 800 consultations and distributed more than 1,000 kits of relief items such as soaps, combs, toothbrushes and towels, as well as almost 2,000 sleeping bags and survival blankets.
  • In Idomeni, close to the border with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, we are running mobile clinics and distributing relief items for those who first arrived Greece and continued crossing into the Balkans to go to northern Europe.

In Athens, in collaboration with two Greek organizations, MSF is providing medical rehabilitation for victims of torture.



 Since late 2014, MSF has been running mobile clinics and distributing relief items to undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Bogovadja, as well as in Subotica near the Hungarian border. Most of the migrants are in transit to northern Europe; they face very poor living conditions and receive very limited assistance.


Other previous migrant projects in Europe

Belgium: Between 1992 and 2008, MSF provided medical and psychological support to homeless people, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Antwerp and Brussels.

Switzerland: Between 2003 and 2010, MSF had projects in Fribourg (2003-2004) and Zurich (2006-2010) offering medical care, counselling and referral to secondary and tertiary facilities (including for chronic diseases) to vulnerable migrants.

Spain: Between 2004 and 2005, MSF offered primary health care and psychological support to migrants in Madrid, and medical assistance to migrants arriving by boat in Fuerteventura, Canary islands (March to June 2004).

Sweden: Between 2004 and 2006, MSF did medical triage, social evaluation and referral to networks of voluntary health professionals and lobbied for subsidized health care to be provided to undocumented migrants.

France: In 2005 and 2006 MSF offered medical care to migrants living in very harsh conditions in the town of Calais. 

Between 2007 and 2013, MSF provided medical and psychological care as well as social support to asylum seekers in Paris. Many have fled conflict zones or political persecution at home and find themselves living on the streets in France.

Malta: Between 2008 and 2010, MSF ran medical activities in Safi, Lyster Barracks and Takandja detention centres. In Safi and Lyster Barracks, appalling conditions and poor access to healthcare contributed to the deteriorating physical and mental health of detainees.

Bulgaria: During the 2013–14 winter, after seeing the terrible living conditions in reception centres, MSF started working in Vrezdevna and Voenna Rampa facilities in Sofia, and also in the Harmanli camp close to the Turkish and Greek borders. MSF teams provided medical, antenatal and psychological care, distributed aid and made improvements to buildings and facilities. Over 5,500 outpatient consultations were carried out. The project closed in mid-2014.

Since the late 1990s, MSF has not only established programs in European countries to address vulnerabilities caused by increasingly restrictive policies, but more recently also in host and transit countries such as Morocco, Libya and Egypt in North Africa; Malaysia and Thailand in South East Asia; South Africa; and Yemen.

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